Injuries, scandals and out-of-form stars

Fabio Capello ended 2009 in high spirits after qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa with minimal fuss – even demolishing recent foes Croatia at Wembley along the way. But just a matter of months on – and with no further fixtures played – his England side is looking worryingly weak as this summer’s showpiece draws ever nearer.

There’s obviously only one place to start, with Capello’s own captain letting him down drastically in an episode that has rocked the England camp. John Terry has since been relieved of his duties following the allegations involving Wayne Bridge’s ex-partner, but the issue is still a glaring one. Exactly how much damage this has done to the dressing room cannot be known at this time but tensions between two of the experienced members of the squad could potentially cause separations in the camp. Loyalties lay in different areas for different players and quite whether any of these private allegiances will unsettle this harmonious squad is a very worrying one indeed. What’s more, Terry’s poor display at Everton last time out showed perhaps his off-field problems may finally have caught up with him. If the Chelsea captain is to take up his central defensive role in South Africa, he will have to have his head firmly in the game, as any such inadequacies could prove costly.

Added to this burdening problem is that of Terry’s Chelsea teammate, Ashley Cole, who suffered an ankle injury at Goodison Park on Wednesday that will rule him out until May at the earliest. The former Arsenal full-back has been in scintillating form this season and has proved himself as arguably the best left-back in world football, but a lengthy absence just before the World Cup threatens to undermine his offerings in South Africa. Indeed, with the season finishing in mid-May, Cole will only have a handful of games to not only regain his fitness in time for England’s opener on June 12, but also recapture his terrific form. Cole’s fitness problems are not helped by the fact his direct replacement, Bridge, has been suffering with his own injuries this campaign in addition to the fact he has hardly been at the top of his game either.

So as two of the first-choice back four struggle with injuries and personal problems, how about the other two preferred defenders? Rio Ferdinand has only just come back from a lengthy lay-off and only time will tell if he can recapture last season’s form. Ferdinand – named the new skipper just last week – was well short of his best before his injury, with notable lapses coming on England duty and for Manchester United alike. With the former Leeds man now granted extra responsibly, the regaining of form and fitness is a huge must for this summer. On the right side of defence sat Glen Johnson at the back end of 2009, but his season at new club Liverpool has been far from steady. Not only has he failed to hit the heights set at former side Portsmouth but he has been hit with a multitude of injuries that could well jeopardise his spot come June. He is another who Capello must wait in hope that his fitness problems are put to bed before June and some of his good form last year is rediscovered.

The goalkeeper situation is another evident problem as David James and Robert Green continue to flatter to deceive. Indeed James has only just come back from injury, and promptly contributed a few poor displays, while Green has shown he still has a moment of naivety in him every now and then. Joe Hart’s outstanding season is a positive, but this summer will surely come too early for him given his inexperienced stature. Potentially a problem solver, yes, but not at this moment in time. Other goalkeeping options are few and far between, so an out-of-sorts James or naive Green will have to do for Capello this summer.

On to the midfield now, and problems lay here too. Mainly in the form of Aaron Lennon whose early season form has been curtailed by a lengthy absence as he too is spending all his time on the treatment table. The speedy winger was in sensational form before his injury and his absence has been felt massively by club side Tottenham. Since his last game on December 28, 2009, Spurs have won just one league game, with Lennon’s injury threatening to halt their Champions League march. Lennon’s superb form was a huge asset for England in 2009 and he made the right-wing spot his own following plenty of competition. He has cemented himself as a key member of the team and one that would be greatly missed. He is expected back in just over a month but again Capello can only wait and hope he can recreate his terrific form following an untimely month lay-off.

England’s major injury problems end there but Capello’s worries do not. Steven Gerrard – the country’s most talented and highly-regarded midfielder – has been way short of his best this season. Injury-plagued and looking nothing like the unstoppable Gerrard of the past few years, Capello knows an in-form Gerrard is key to England’s chances come June. Signs that his injury problems are behind him are encouraging, but he needs time and some kind of renaissance in order to be boarding the plane to South Africa in a similar vein of form to this time last year. Meanwhile, Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry have had steady if unspectacular seasons to date while Emile Heskey has plodded along with Aston Villa. But if Capello wanted something to help sleep a little better at night, watching Wayne Rooney in his current form will certainly do the trick. The Manchester United forward has been on fire this term and if England are to place their hopes on anyone’s shoulders at present, Rooney is certainly that man. He has almost single-handedly carried United this season in patches and if he reproduces his current form in the summer, England will be a match for anyone.

So, we sit here, still exactly four months until kick-off against USA in June, and Capello has more problems than he does fingers. In four months’ time, however, it may well be a completely different situation. All he and England can do is wait, in hope, that the problems have since subsided and England can mount the kind of World Cup challenge they promised at the end of last year.

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