RIO FERDINAND has revealed he witnessed multiple violent clashes between teammates who had "ribs broken" and "heads kicked like a football".
The Manchester United legend spoke out to insist that Raheem Sterling's bust-up with Joe Gomez is "not uncommon" after releasing a statement slamming Gareth Southgate for not handling the scuffle internally.
Manchester City winger Sterling was dropped by England yesterday evening after reportedly squaring up to his Liverpool rival in the canteen at St George's Park.
It came just hours after the pair clashed during the Reds' 3-1 win over the Premier League champions on Sunday afternoon at Anfield.
On Wednesday morning, Ferdinand hammered manager Southgate with a statement on Facebook that read: "GARETH has handled being England manager brilliantly - up to this point.
"He has conducted himself in a admirable, eloquent & engaging way. Helping to make a Nation feel like they can have some sort of confidence & respect for the national team. However, I feel this incident could have been handled better.
"Keep it behind closed doors & deal with it internally surely?! Come International Week, it’s meet up time between Sterling & Gomez... Raheem Sterling was still upset with Gomez about the result on Sunday & their little pushing/words said during the Liverpool vs City game.
"So he has obviously gone into the England camp heated & gone for Gomez, in doing so grabbed Gomez by the throat. Obviously as a manager I’m sure having a harmonious squad is the best scenario - handshakes and hugs on sight not confrontations. But let’s be honest now this kind of stuff isn’t uncommon in squads full of testosterone.
I have seen players get punched in the face, ribs broken, nose busted, head kicked like a football.....a throat grab was the equivalent of the intricate handshakeRio Ferdinand
"In the various squads I have been a part of I have seen players get punched in the face, ribs broken, nose busted, head kicked like a football.....a throat grab was the equivalent of the intricate handshake embraces that are all too familiar today!
"The main question is: Why this couldn’t be handled internally?
"I suppose the management have felt it would be better to nip it in the bud prior to the press, agents, family friends leaking the news. However, the worst case on this instance would have been someone asking in a press conference “what happened between Raheem & Gomez, we heard there was a fight”.
"Easy answer we have a game to concentrate on. Incident done and dusted. No player looks any worse, we move on. Now Raheem is left to defend himself from all of the haters that had had their keyboards turned off due to him becoming a very worthy ambassador for the English game, and rightly so.
"If this was a terrible incident then I would be all for public shaming & discipline. But for this ‘throat grab’ that we are TOLD it’s for I can’t understand it.
"Gareth would no doubt had seen worse many times during his time as a player and manager. I just feel this could and should have been handled better to support the player & not hang him out to dry.
"One of our World Class players who has conducted himself wonderfully through Racism and unwarranted criticism in an England shirt will now come under more scrutiny and be vilified in the media no doubt - when this could have been dealt with internally. Hindsight is a great thing though.
"It seems to me, Raheem felt embarrassed by all that went on at the weekend.... a sign of winning mentality..... however channelled wrongly. Help educate him!"
The incident happened almost as soon as the wide-man arrived at St George's Park, just hours after their Premier League title clash at Anfield.
Fellow players are understood to have first seen the coming together as a joke, Sterling asking Gomez if he thought he "was still the big man" before allegedly attempting to grab his neck - at which point teammates intervened.
A crisis meeting was held and the City man apologised, allowing him to keep his place in the squad but without being considered for Thursday's home game with Montenegro.
With Sterling releasing a statement admitting his "emotions got the better of him", the 24-year-old is reportedly "upset" by the whole incident.
On Tuesday morning, Ferdinand had left fans waiting with bated breath when tweeting: "I’m gonna finish my gym session and get back to this Sterling and Gomez farce... back in a bit!"
Ferdinand played during a time when the Three Lions' Golden Generation were beset by club rivalries and he reckons this was a major factor behind their lack of success at tournaments.
With United fiercely competing against Chelsea, Arsenal, and Co. for the title, cliques sprang up as players didn't trust each other.
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"It overshadowed things," he said last year.
"It killed that England team, that generation. One year we would have been fighting Liverpool to win the league, another year it would be Chelsea.
"So I was never going to walk into the England dressing room and open up to Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, John Terry or Joe Cole at Chelsea, or Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher at Liverpool.