Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has earned his first England call-up under manager Roy Hodgson for the World Cup qualifiers with San Marino and Montenegro later this month.
Hodgson cited “footballing reasons” for Ferdinand’s exclusion in his squad for the Euro 2012 finals and he has remained out of his plans ever since.
The Football Association also confirmed that West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster had been recalled after reversing his decision to retire from international football.
Ferdinand won the last of his 81 caps against Switzerland at Wembley in June 2011 in a Euro 2012 qualifier.
His call-up comes at a time when Phil Jagielka is sidelined with an ankle injury, Joleon Lescott has only a bit-part role at Manchester City and question marks hover over Gary Cahill’s form.
Ferdinand, 34, has been in outstanding form for Manchester United this season.
Foster made himself unavailable for his country towards the end of the 2010-11 campaign because of a back problem and other injury niggles.
Hodgson, who managed Foster last season when in charge at the Baggies, was unable persuade him to make himself available for Euro 2012.
But he received a more positive response when again recently sounding out the 29-year-old.
Foster, Albion’s player of the year last season, has again been in outstanding form in their push for a Europa League spot after signing a new five-year contract in the summer.
He won the last of his five England caps against France in November 2010 and will provide competition for Joe Hart.
Hodgson is currently without the services of injured Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy while Stoke’s recent signing, Jack Butland, is likely to be required for European Under-21 Championship duty this summer.
Foster will also be reunited with goalkeeping coach, Dave Watson, whom he worked with during his spell at Birmingham.
The former Manchester United player spoke recently of his burning desire to play in a major tournament for England and is now clear of his past injury problems.
There are also recalls for Tottenham duo Michael Dawson and Scott Parker.
Defender Dawson won his fourth and final cap to date in a 2-0 win over Wales at the Millennium Stadium in March 2011.
Midfielder Parker, meanwhile, has not appeared since England’s exit from Euro 2012 at the hands of Italy. He missed the early part of this season after having surgery on the Achilles problem.
Hodgson gave a strong hint that Ferdinand could have a prominent role to play in the double-header coming up, and possibly beyond.
He said: “A player of Rio’s calibre and also of Rio’s age, you don’t bring them into a squad as back-ups, you bring them into the squad or the team because you want them to make the team better, to give you a better chance of winning.
“So it wouldn’t take too much guesswork to work out that he’s in the squad in order to play rather than to make up the numbers.
“Like all players you select, you select them because you think they’re capable of doing the job you want them to do. But who knows what the future holds? 2014 is still a long way off and if Rio is still going the way he is at the moment, in 2014 he is going to be a major candidate for the squad.
“He has been playing well and his team have been playing extremely well. I think this is the moment to select him because he certainly deserves it on current form.”
Ferdinand returns to a squad also featuring Ashley Cole.
Hodgson does not anticipate there being any issues between the two, despite Ferdinand endorsing a tweet which referred to Cole as a ’choc ice’ – a phrase understood to mean someone who is black on the outside but white on the inside - after Cole gave evidence in defence of Chelsea team-mate John Terry during his trial on a charge of racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother Anton. Terry was cleared in court last July.
“They are good friends from what I understand, but we are talking about the England football team here, we are not talking purely individuals. I would expect the pair of them to do their jobs,” Hodgson said.
Hodgson was also pleased with the return of Foster, who has excelled for West Brom this season.
Hodgson said: “We are pleased we have, in our opinion, two excellent goalkeepers. Ben is playing very well for his club team at the moment and it is good that he has decided after a long absence that he wants to play again.”
The news was not so good regarding Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere, who has been was ruled out for three weeks with an ankle injury.
“It’s a blow. It’s disappointing for Jack, he had enjoyed a good spell of playing regularly after such a long lay-off. He did so well in a cameo appearance against Sweden and then against Brazil he was man of the match,” Hodgson added.
“So to find we can’t use him again is a major blow but these things happen, injuries occur in football.
“We still have a strong squad.”
Hodgson was happy with the balance of his squad, believing he has the right blend of youth and experience.
“In an ideal team you have a mix of experience and youth and if you can blend them together…if you look at all the good teams there are players who have a lot of games behind them and a few who are making their way in the game,” he said.
“I would like to think the England team strikes a balance between youth and experience but I would never decry the importance of experience because it’s something you can’t buy.”
Ferdinand’s inclusion and that of Tottenham skipper Dawson meant there was no place for City centre-half Lescott.
Hodgson said: “It has been difficult for me, Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka have done an excellent job. But Phil is injured and Joleon has been playing so little football…and with Michael Dawson playing the way he has been playing I thought it was right to include him.”