PUBLISHED: 22:55, 20 March 2013 | UPDATED: 10:35, 21 March 2013
Rio Ferdinand has defended his controversial decision to jet to the Middle East to be a TV pundit on England’s clash with San Marino.
Sportsmail exclusively revealed that the Manchester United defender will fly to Qatar to work on a television broadcast of Friday’s World Cup qualifier.
Ferdinand withdrew from England’s upcoming qualifiers to look after his chronic back problem but has sparked fresh controversy over his marathon trip.
You’re having a laugh: Rio Ferdinand trains on his last visit to the Aspire Academy in Doha with Manchester United in January this year
The Manchester United defender has agreed to be a pundit on Al Jazeera for the San Marino match, even though it will entail a 15-hour round trip to their headquarters in Doha.
Ferdinand boarded an overnight flight to the Middle East – sleeping in a bed on the plane before landing early this morning.
Sportsmail understands that on previous flights with United, he has remained standing for significant periods to prevent his back from tightening, only sitting for any lengthy time during take-off and landing. He also takes a customised orthopedic cushion with him for long-haul flights.
He will now stay and train at the luxury Aspire Academy in Doha, which is a favourite of United for winter breaks. The Barclays Premier League leaders spent several days there in January.
After touching down in Qatar, Ferdinand tweeted: ‘Gonna check into Aspire, state of the art facilities. Nice!
‘1) Flown out for some pre-planned downtime…with a bit of punditry thrown in for a game I would have watched anyway…
‘2) No different from what I done on the last 10day international break…thank you guys.
‘Haters are gonna hate…also assume everything…although it must be the gospel truth based on assumptions!’
The travel schedule will hardly help a back problem so delicate that Ferdinand pulled out of Roy Hodgson’s squad so as not to jeopardise his treatment.
And, after all the fuss over his aborted international comeback, his decision is sure to enrage England fans as well as the FA.
Ferdinand’s recall was the most debated topic in the lead-up to Hodgson’s announcement of the squad for the qualifiers, which also sees England take on Montenegro on Tuesday.
After being left out of the Euro 2012 set-up for what Hodgson insisted were ‘footballing reasons’ in favour of John Terry, Ferdinand’s form for United this season – and with Terry out of the international picture – prompted his return to the fold.
But after three days of speculation, including a warning to England over his training regime from club manager Sir Alex Ferguson, Ferdinand met with Hodgson on Sunday to say he would be pulling out of the squad.
His chronic back problem, requiring careful planning and a strict training regime, was cited as the reason for the decision.
Ferdinand then took to his Twitter account to say ex-sportsmen criticising his actions were ‘talking rubbish’, but he is sure to face a further backlash over his punditry gig.
Ferdinand’s trip, with a flight three times as long as England’s trip to San Marino today, is all the more bizarre as Al Jazeera are also using pundits in their London studio.
Favourite: Ferdinand is a big fan of the Aspire Academy in Doha – and was part of the United squad who spent their winter break there
But the 34-year-old is working on the Arabic broadcast, which requires him to be in Doha. It is not available to viewers in the UK.
Ferdinand will not stay in the Gulf for England’s game against Montenegro on Tuesday and the short turnaround will result in his fragile back being subjected to almost 15 hours in an aircraft in the space of four days.
The Ferdinand camp say he had one of his finely scheduled set of injections this week, meaning he would not have trained today or tomorrow, and he will have the sun on his back while he rests up in Doha.
Al Jazeera sports chief Duncan Walkinshaw said: ‘We’ve been talking with Rio about coming out to Qatar for over two years and finally everything fitted into place.
‘Big pundit names are very popular on the Arabic channels even if their comments have to be translated.
‘It’s up to United and Rio how he looks after his fitness. But the sports medicine facilities over here are second to none and United came here for hot weather training in January.’