Ferdinand retires from international soccer, what now for England?

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This morning Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand announced his retirement from international soccer.

Considering he hasn’t played for England in nearly two years, you can be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about.

But Ferdinand’s form for United this season has shown everyone that he still has plenty to give on the elite stage, with many believing the 34-year-old center back could still do a tremendous job for the Three Lions.

Ferdinand won 81 caps for England, scoring three times which included a goal in the last 16 win over Denmark in the 2002 World Cup.

In all he played in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups and was named England captain in 2008.

After several injury hit seasons, the 2012-13 campaign saw him return to form and fitness, which resulted in a recall to the England squad under new manager Roy Hodgson. However Ferdinand ended up declining the call up, citing health reasons after a back injury. But created a furor after instead flying to the Middle East to cover the England games he pulled out of, as a pundit for a foreign satellite TV company.

Of course, England have plenty of players who can step in in central defense. But are any quite as good as Ferdinand?

They haven’t shown so yet.

As aforementioned, Ferdinand has not played since June 2011 for England. Since then Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson have used the likes of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Joleon Lescott, Michael Dawson, Ryan Shawcross and Steven Caulker at center back.

The fact that so many different players have been used, highlights England’s main problem. They haven’t been able to replace the solid partnership of John Terry and Ferdinand that stood as their foundation for many years.

But it isn’t as if Ferdinand is past it or melting into the background at United. This season he was arguably their most consistent performer and his place in the EPL team of the year cements that notion. He still has a lot to give for club and country, which is why this announcement is so disappointing.

(More: Ferdinand snubs England call up, after Hodgson extends olive branch)

In Ferdinand’s press release announcing his retirement, the London born defender had this to say. “I feel the time is right for me to stand aside and let the younger players come through.”

The sad fact is, for England fans, Rio has done that for the last two years and nobody has emerged as his successor. England’s defensive future remains unresolved.

Who would you like to see as the Three Lions central defensive pairing? Cahill and Jagielka? Smalling and Jones? Or perhaps Lescott and Dawson?

Whichever pair you chose, ask yourself this. Was Rio Ferdinand head and shoulders above them in his prime? Yes, will be the likely answer. And therein lies the problem for Hodgson and the English national team.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.