Blades keeper Long lands gong

Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has stood by his

decision to fly to Qatar after pulling out of the England

squad.

The 34-year-old was called up by Roy Hodgson for the World Cup

qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro.

However, he turned down the chance to add to his 81 caps due to

his detailed pre-planned training and medical programme for his

long-standing back injury.

Ferdinand was then criticised in some quarters after it emerged

he was flying to Doha on a 15-hour round trip to appear as a pundit

for Al Jazeera Sport television for the San Marino match.

But he said: “I met the boss in London and we spoke about my

regime and (I’m doing) what I’ve done at the last few international

breaks – the same.

“I was pencilled in to have certain treatments, had them and

then I’ve come away to have some rest time and to recuperate and

get myself ready.

“I think obviously the situation with myself and the national

team is well documented.

“But this isn’t something that I’m doing differently. This is

something I’ve done in past international get-togethers when I’ve

not been involved.

“I’ve had a course of treatment that I’ve had to have and then

to go and rest and get ready and recuperate – and that’s what I’ve

continued to do.”

Ferdinand has not given up hope of appearing for England in the

future and revealed he is still very much a part of Hodgson’s

plans.

“He made it very clear that he’ll consider me for the next

squads and that will be fantastic,” he said.

Ferdinand added he had cleared the trip with United before

flying out.

“I spoke to the club and the club doctors and the physios who

have helped me organise the regime that I’m on. But ultimately it

was spelled out for us anyway,” he said.

The fight reportedly left another man in a coma, the Foreign

Office said.

Reports in Italy say that the 21-year-old man was arrested on

Thursday night after a fight outside the Bounty pub in Bologna, 75

miles (120km) from the enclave republic where England’s World Cup

qualifying match takes place.

Local newspaper La Repubblica reported that a 65-year-old

England fan was in a coma in hospital after having major surgery on

a head injury.

A Foreign office spokeswoman said: “We can confirm the arrest of

a British national in Italy on 21 March. We are providing consular

assistance.”

La Repubblica reported that a group of at least seven football

fans, who had been drinking, started fighting outside the pub in

the Via delle Moline. They described the 65-year-old defending

himself with a bar stool before being punched and then hitting his

head on the ground as he fell.

England take on the part-time minnows of San Marino at the

Stadio Olimpico, before Tuesday’s crucial trip to Montenegro.

Long conceded just three goals in six League One games all month

and was man of the match in a 0-0 home draw with Leyton Orient.

Long said: “I would not have believed it if someone had asked me

in pre-season that I would have played as many games as I have this

season but I like to take it in my stride and keep my consistency

levels up.

“My ambition this season is to get promotion – I want to get

that first before talking about anything else.”

Blades boss Danny Wilson added: “George has been brilliant and

his temperament is unquestionable.

“He is learning more with every game he plays and goalkeeping

coach Darren Ward has done an excellent job with him, his

shot-stopping is certainly up there with the best in the

country.”