The one moment of clear thinking in the Rio Ferdinand selection farrago arrived when the Manchester United defender picked up the phone to arrange a Sunday evening meeting with Roy Hodgson.
With this decision the 34-year-old closed three days of tap-dancing around his call-up. It involved Sir Alex Ferguson offering mixed messages, Hodgson, who could have avoided the mess by sounding out Ferdinand in good time before the announcement, and the player himself, whose public silence until Monday's decision to withdraw proved, with hindsight, to speak volumes.
Last month's statement by Ferdinand that he would respond positively to an international recall – "I would pack my bag and go" – had haunted him. He was caught between a fierce desire to play again for England and the need to appease Ferguson by adhering to the regime that has allowed him to overcome a chronic back problem in starting 20 of United's 29 league games this term.
Ferguson will doubtless have referred to Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, who still play in their late 30s due to the curtailing of international duties, and Ferdinand, with a contract up for renewal this summer, had to make one of the most important – and awkward – decisions of his career.
On Friday, Ferguson cast the first doubts over what Ferdinand might do. "The issue is not that [the amount of games], the issue is his whole preparation for football today," the manager said.
"Because he hasn't been playing international football when the international breaks have come along we have detailed all the things he has to do: when he trains, when his treatments come along. Therefore it is a disruption to his normal preparation."
Ferdinand's programme has been specifically tailored for him by United's medical staff, who are headed by the club doctor, Steve McNally, and Tony Strudwick, the fitness coach. It involves individual sessions, stretching and warm-down exercises, with Ferdinand having also taken up yoga on a daily basis. Those at the club speak of how even a minor tweak – or "disruption", to use Ferguson's word – has caused calf and groin issues that have stopped him playing. So you can see the concern for Ferdinand and his manager.
Once Ferguson raised doubts Hodgson phoned the defender for the first time – leaving a voicemail – and contacted the Scot again to discuss how best Ferdinand might be managed when away with England on a 10-day trip that includes flights to San Marino and Montenegro.
With Ferguson expecting Ferdinand to be involved in United's two matches in three days following his scheduled return – the league game at Sunderland on Saturday week and the FA Cup replay with Chelsea the following Monday – one solution proposed by Hodgson was for the defender to play only against Montenegro.
Ferdinand still woke on Saturday minded to pull out of the squad. Yet by that evening the message had changed, though Ferguson's demeanour had not. After Ferdinand had turned in a sparkling man-of-the-match display in which he created the winner in United's 1-0 win over Reading, the manager was asked if the 34-year-old would be reporting to St George's Park. Ferguson said: "Yes, he will definitely go." This caused bemusement in the Ferdinand camp, to say the least. The clue to Ferguson's true feeling was in the prickly manner he made the answer.
Despite the confusion, throughout Sunday the FA still expected Ferdinand's attendance on Monday evening though he had yet to confirm it by text to the director of operations. This is when Ferdinand picked up the phone to ask for a face-to-face meeting with Hodgson in London on Sunday and clarity was finally reached, with each side impressed with the discussions. Ferdinand said: "I told Roy that I want to continue to be available for England and I look forward to working with him in the future."
Hodgson concurred, yet here the situation continues to intrigue. This is not closure, just a pause until the next England internationals arrive. Late May features a friendly with the Republic of Ireland at Wembley before the flight to Rio de Janeiro to play Brazil on 2 June. These might have been days when Ferguson expected Ferdinand to be recuperating after a long season. And if England qualify for next summer's World Cup could Hodgson really risk Ferdinand playing three games in 10 days in the heat of Brazil?
With Monday's withdrawal Ferdinand called time on the second part of his England career before it started, Hodgson having surprisingly resurrected it after dropping him "for football reasons" before Euro 2012. In confirming he wants to "be selected for the summer and autumn fixtures", Ferdinand hopes there may yet be a third. Ferguson is said to be behind this, which could prove vital to its success.