So there will be no fairytale Rio finale for Rio. Instead, like so many of his contemporaries, Ferdinand will depart the international stage nursing a nagging sense of what might have been.
Eighteen years ago, when a wide-eyed teenage Ferdinand was invited with his then West Ham team-mate Frank Lampard to train with Terry Venables' Euro 96 squad he recalls his nervousness about not knowing where to sit among the cliques and big names present. Lack of confidence is not a trait many have associated with the Manchester United defender since.
For some his decision to call time on an England career that may have been over anyway was typical of his desire to put himself at the centre of the story. But such is the toxicity and layers of intrigue that have come to surround the relationship between perhaps the most naturally gifted defender of his generation and the man with whom he once formed the bedrock of England's defence, John Terry, that the clarity will be welcomed by all concerned.
Roy Hodgson, who tied himself in knots with his decision to leave Ferdinand out of the Euro 2012 squad for "footballing reasons" and his subsequent contortions on Tube trains and in press conferences, may feel some frustration at being deprived of the player at a time when his options at centre-half are far less plentiful than has been the case in the past. But part of him will also breathe a sigh of relief at the decision being made for him. As with so many others of the now tarnished golden generation, Ferdinand will depart the international stage with plenty of plaudits but more than a few regrets.
A gangly Ferdinand became England's youngest ever defender when he made his debut against Cameroon at Wembley in 1997, a week after his 19th birthday, and went on to be named in the squad for four consecutive World Cups. It is emblematic of some of the lingering frustrations that surround any assessment of his international career that he appeared on the pitch in only two of those tournaments (he did not feature in 1998 and was ruled out by injury shortly after arriving in South Africa in 2010 in a freak training ground accident) and has never played in a European Championship.
Even before he made his debut, there was a hint of the controversy to come when Glenn Hoddle was forced to drop the prodigiously talented teenager from his squad for a World Cup qualifier against Moldova over a drink-driving incident. But in those two World Cups in which he did appear, in South Korea and Japan in 2002 and in Germany four years later, he was by common consent one of the best England players on show as he blossomed under Sven Goran‑Eriksson.
In 2002, alongside Sol Campbell, he raised hopes that England had found the perfect modern defender – supremely comfortable on the ball, lightening quick with expert positional sense. In the 3-0 second round victory over Denmark, in which he also scored the opening goal, he was imperious as fans conga-ed their way around the Big Swan Stadium in the teeming rain and there was that familiar feeling of soon-to-be-dashed optimism.
His performances at the 2002 Japan and South Korea World Cup helped him earn a £30m move from Leeds United to Manchester United, where he has written himself into the club's rich history.
Four years later, as the golden generation stuttered their way to another quarter-final exit on penalties, the solid partnership between Terry and Ferdinand, who complemented one another perfectly on the pitch if not off it, was one of the bright spots.
The reasons he missed those European Championships demonstrate the other side of Ferdinand's England experience, of controversy and missed opportunities. In 2000 Kevin Keegan left an inconsolable Ferdinand at home in favour of Martin Keown. Then in 2004 he missed out on the tournament in Portugal due to the saga of his missed drug test – he claimed to have gone shopping instead and it slipped his mind – and subsequent eight-month ban.
In 2008 England failed to qualify at a rain-soaked Wembley and in 2012 it was those "footballing reasons" amid the caustic and unpleasant fallout from Terry's racist abuse of Ferdinand's brother Anton during a Premier League match that led to his absence.
That might have been that were it not for a typically contentious coda when Hodgson, recalled Ferdinand for the qualifiers in San Marino and Montenegro in March. Ferdinand's "intricate, pre-planned" fitness programme designed to manage his ongoing back issues would not allow him to play – but did not prevent him flying to Doha to pass judgment on the games as an al-Jazeera television pundit.
Even though Sir Alex Ferguson will this weekend take his leave of the dugout, his mantra of club first, country later will continue to inform the thinking at Old Trafford for some time to come. Down the ages he has encouraged, cajoled and threatened his players to put United first, and Ferdinand has now followed the template set by Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes in calling time on his international career in order to further his time at the club.
The explosion of joy as Ferdinand thumped a typically late winner into the net on Sunday to ensure Ferguson ended his final match at Old Trafford with a victory was ample evidence of his desire to prolong his career at the club for as long as possible. In the middle of negotiations about a new one-year contract, the subject of his international future will surely have not gone unmentioned.
Ferdinand, attending United's end-of-season awards, told MUTV on Wednesday night: "It's not an easy thing to do to retire from playing for your country. I'm as passionate as the next man and I've always loved doing that. But there comes a time when your body tells you what to do. If I want to remain fit and well and playing consistent football at the top level it had to give somewhere and international football was that."
Then there are Ferdinand's extra-curricular ambitions. From his enthusiastic early adoption of Twitter to his mini media empire and a new role with BT Sport as an "interviewer, programme-maker and football expert", he has always been willing (perhaps too willing for some) to speak his mind and has a wider hinterland than most – even if some of those efforts, such as his 2006 World Cup Wind-Ups programme, are best glossed over.
Ultimately, Ferdinand's 17-year involvement with the England setup acts as pretty good shorthand for those years. Successive managers who failed to work out how best to use his supreme talent, too many off-the-pitch headlines that obscured his qualities on it, a club career that far outshone his international one in terms of trophies and, in the end, an overriding sense that the pain and problems associated with playing for England eventually came to more than outweigh the pleasure and pride.