It's nice to see, as the world celebrates the arrival of a new Bishop of Rome, that the notion of the late withdrawal still has some purchase.
Rio Ferdinand's decision to exclude himself from the little matter of a trip to San Marino and Montenegro has left most of us feeling bewildered. (Although not quite as bewildered as I feel when hearing various Catholic commentators, and in particular, cardinals, getting mildly erect when talking about the new Pope. I can't help seeing them under the bedsheets with a torch and a copy of Vatican weekly - which is at least a preferable image to the one that they'd prefer you didn't know about. But I digress.)
Ferdinand couldn't come to play for England cos he has an 'intricate, pre-planned fitness programme'. There was a lad at our school who skipped swimming lessons cos he had a 'chronic, ongoing and debilitating aural condition'. Yes it sounded like a skive to me n all, but I'm sure if you had asked him he would have reassured you as to his passion and commitment to swimming.
The thing is, if Rio can't come on these trips cos Fergie won't give him a note, then what the fuck's the point of him insisting he really wants to play for England? If he has this complicated schedule - and it sounds as if he can't break wind without the Govan Beetroot sniffing the air and giving it the thumbs up - then essentially he's saying I can play for England, yes, but he has to fit in with my plans.
That's a non-starter. So just retire, Rio. Okay?
I mean it begs the question just what does he do with his week? Clearly he's got a more secure handle on it than he had when he missed that drug test. He must have a window set aside for 'shopping for jumpers' now.
Now I like Rio. I think he's a top player and if I was Hodgson I'd be dead keen to have him in the team. There was a time not too long ago when pundits were purring about the great depth of talent that England had at centre-back: Terry, Ferdinand, Cahill, Jagielka, Lescott, Dawson... and Smalling and Jones getting better all the time.
Now that just reads like an injury list. When I was growing up centre-backs were made of iron. Even if you were armed with a sledgehammer and a forklift truck you still wouldn't be able to get them off the pitch. Maybe it's just bad luck but these days they're about as sturdy as puff pastry.
I can't imagine Jack Charlton or Terry Butcher insisting that they'd have to skip an international fixture cos I've got some raiki massage at 10 am that day and then I'm doing some intense visualisation exercises at half-two. Indeed Butcher would have been more likely to say "Let me take out my own stitches out before I get on that plane".
Of course recent history is also littered with the debris left by Cap'n Terry. His retirement, huffily done and only after the FA kind of insisted that the words 'cunt' and 'black' had been used in reference to a fellow professional, was welcomed in most quarters.
Of course while Terry was captain, Rio was left out when Terry was captain for 'footballing reasons' which is a bit like leaving out Bradley Wiggins from the Olympics for 'cycling reasons'. You could argue that a centre-back partnership between a user of racist language and the brother of the victim of that racist language might not make for a good football team, I suppose.
Ironically, Terry would be quite handy now, even if he too suffers from chronic back problems and has been left out by Benitez. (Although Benitez also leaves out Eden Hazard... just how - how??? - is he still in gainful employment?)
So Hodgson is left with the onerous task of cobbling together a pair of centre-backs and crossing his fingers. It'll be Caulker and Smalling most likely. Against San Marino it could be Walcott and Lampard for all it matters.
The last time an England manager was rooting around desperately for a pair of centre-halves before a vital qualifier was November 21st, 2007. Yes it only feels like yesterday, doesn't it? That night England's back four were Richards (remember him?), Campbell (a plodding 33 at the time), Lescott (in a wonky-wheeled shopping trolley of a performance) and Wayne Bridge who played like a man who had one eye on the fact that John Terry wasn't on the pitch. They were a bloody shambles but weren't much helped by Scott Carson's awful performance.
Now I don't doubt that Hodgson will have his team, whoever they are, better organised than McClaren. And I'm more than certain that Woy won't have an umberwella handy either. In Montenegro, I wouldn't be surprised if the owl-faced gaffer doesn't break the record for the number of holding midfielders in a starting eleven.
But the omens aren't great. Much emphasis is always put on Rooney but sooner or later we will embrace the idea that the top-weaved terror of Toxteth is nowhere near the potential genius everyone hoped for when Clive Tyldesley hollered "Remember the Name! Wayne Rooney!" And with no Wilshere we might just have to rely on Sturridge or Welbeck fulfilling some of their promise.
I expect to see this team v Montenegro: Hart, Johnson, Smalling, Cahill, Cole, Milner, Carrick, Gerrard, Cleverley, Rooney, Welbeck.
But between then and now let's work hard, boys n girls, to just dampen down any residual optimism that some foolish people might have gained from that win against Brazil that took out national team to 4th in the FIFA rankings.
Yes. Fourth. Try explaining that to your children when they say 'But I thought we were shit, Daddy."