News that Wes Brown has decided to retire from international duty has been met with a mixture of disdain and incredulity from many both inside and outside Old Trafford.
The ‘hardest man in town’ has called an end to his international career after 23 caps, which considering he made his England debut 11 years ago is hardly a great amount.
“After a lot of thought and with a very heavy heart, I have decided the time is right for me to retire from international football.
“At the age of 30, I feel it is right for me to stand aside and let younger players come through, which allows me to concentrate on my club career.
“I regard it as an honour and a privilege to have represented my country at every level from under-15s upwards. I have always been very proud to play for England and wish them well in future tournaments.”
Brown’s decision comes just as Paul Robinson made his to also retire from England, although he stated it is more to do with being way down the pecking order than any wish to concentrate on his job at Blackburn.
While Robinson’s decision was a little surprising, after all as Robert Green showed, even a mediocre season can get you a place between the sticks for England when Capello’s in charge, Brown’s was actually pretty pragmatic.
Brown has never been a real first choice for England either at right back or centre back, due to either his injuries or having Gary Neville in his way. Since Neville more or less dropped out of the international scene Glen Johnson has emerged as the preferred choice at right back for Capello.
The world cup may well have been the final straw for Brown when it comes to England. After seemingly working his way back into the international fold under Capello, Brown was omitted even from the provisional 30 man squad for South Africa. Although he had recently returned from injury, the fact that the England manager chose to coax Jamie Carragher out of retirement and take a player who’d played a lot less football and has severe knee problems in Ledley King may well have irked the quiet defender.
Gary Neville wasted no time in questioning Capello’s decision to leave Brown out-although call me cynical I feel he may well have been having a dig due to his own omission but as with most things concerning ‘r Gary, who knows.
What amazed me about his world cup omission was that last season Brown played all his football for United at centre back and did a fine job as with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic missing large chunks of the campaign he was called into action a total of 26 times. Admittedly that hardly constitutes the term ‘mainstay’ but considering United’s defence was the best in the country and Brown put in some marvellous performances- Stamford Bridge for example- then for me he was a far better option than either Matthew Upson, Michael Dawson, Ledley King or Jamie Carragher. Like King and Carragher he has international experience but is capable of playing more than one game a week and didn’t need convincing to play, like Carragher he can play at right back or centre back but is far better in either position, and unlike Upson and Dawson he is truly world class. I know many Tottenham, West Ham and Liverpool fans may disagree but other than King, I think Brown is the more naturally gifted defender.
Regardless of whether he made it into the World Cup squad, another major factor which seems to have swayed his thinking towards retirement is Brown’s falling down the United pecking order.
When everyone is fully fit, Brown can no longer be guaranteed the right back spot that he made his own during the successful 2007-08 campaign. What is even more worrying for the ginger-ish- haired one is that even when the likes of Ferdinand and Neville are injured, Jonny Evans and John O’Shea, not to mention even Rafael Da Silva, seem to find themselves starting games with Brown often on the bench.
Sir Alex Ferguson loves to rotate his squad but certain players are pretty much guaranteed to start every game, or at least the big ones, if they are fit. Patrice Evra seldom gets rested and when he does it’s usually for an ‘easy’ Champion’s League tie or the Carling Cup. Fergie has pointed to France’s version of Leon Trotsky’s huge appearance record over the past few seasons as a reason for giving him an extra week off recently. Vidic is another defender who is only really rested when he’s either just returning from injury or it’s not a truly testing game. Ditto Rio- although if he’s fit he’ll play due to the rarity of the occasion. Brown is nowhere near this level of importance to Fergie, yet in 2007-08 he appeared more than any other United player- including Cristiano Ronaldo.
Brown knows that if he’s not careful he could find himself fourth choice right back and with the recent signing of Chris Smalling, possibly fifth choice for a centre back spot. Playing for England may not entirely prevent him from gaining his place in the starting XI but if he were to pick up an injury on international duty, would Fergie be as understanding or patient with him as Brown would hope?
Brown has two years left on his United contract, by which time he’ll be 32 and if he wants to ensure the next two seasons at Old Trafford aren’t spent keeping the bench warm or being an important member of the reserves, retiring from international football may be a step in the right direction. United have reaped the benefits of Paul Scholes decision to retire from England as the –truly- ginger haired one is still going strong –as he showed by winning man of the match in the ‘Community’ Shield.
England and Capello may regret Brown’s decision but I have a feeling that United and the defender himself won’t, the question is will Rio be joining him?