David Beckham is to be invited to travel with the England squad to the World Cup finals and stay with them as a non-playing member of the party in South Africa, in an unprecedented move by the Fabio Capello camp that was first floated in the immediate aftermath of his injury on Sunday night.
The prospect of Beckham travelling with the squad is sure to attract criticism from those who feel that he commands rather too much attention at the best of times but the invitation has already been made by senior figures among Capello's staff. The idea was first suggested when Beckham was being consoled as he digested news of his ruptured Achilles tendon on Sunday night.
He is held in such high esteem by the Capello camp that the invitation is serious and something that Beckham will have to consider. The 34-year-old's exploratory surgery in Finland last night was successful but he has accepted that there is no chance of him being fit in time to play in his fourth World Cup finals.
Just 24 hours after the injury was sustained playing for Milan, there was no plan in place as to what Beckham's official role would be as part of the England party should he choose to accept. There is no precedent for taking an injured non-playing player as part of a World Cup squad.
Beckham will also be in huge demand from England's 2018 World Cup bid who used him as their most potent lobbying weapon at the World Cup draw in Cape Town in December. Beckham is integral to the bid and he will extremely useful in South Africa during the summer where there will be opportunities to lobby for the votes of the 24-man Fifa executive committee. Whether Beckham will want to spend six weeks in England's remote base, the Royal Bafokeng sports campus in the town of Phokeng just outside Rustenburg in the North West province, is up for debate. He may also be required to spend time in Los Angeles working on his rehabilitation. His contract at LA Galaxy runs until 2011 and Milan's insurance policy will pay for his treatment.
Beckham landed in Turku, Finland yesterday to visit Dr Sakari Orava at the Mehilainen clinic, which was mobbed bycrowds. He. He then underwent a successful operation on a fully ruptured left Achilles tendon and is expected to make a full recovery. "So far everything is fine," Dr Orava said. "The operation went smoothly and nicely."
Remarkably, Capello even suggested that Beckham might have an international career beyond this summer. Capello said: “We hope he will be fit for the next year. I hope he will be fit for the Euros, next qualifying. He’s always one of the best players in England.”
In a statement last night, Beckham said: “I am upset but want to thank everyone for their messages of support. I hope to make a swift and full recovery.
Orava said that Beckham would have to wait at least three months before he could kick a ball again. "For maximum performances and maximum kicks and jumps, maybe it takes one month more, three to four months before he is able to do light playing. It's a total tear of the Achilles tendon. If there is any weakness then a graft can be taken from the calf and put over the injury site to make it stronger. This kind of procedure is planned.
"These days we allow patients to get moving earlier than before. In these kind of cases we try to get it back in motion as soon as possible. The operation takes less than one hour. There can gradually be more movement and muscle contractions after the first month and the shift from light training to harder training comes in the second month.
"I don't think it is a big difference between players aged 25 or 35 with this injury. It will be up to five months. Most of these patients come back at the same level, even in a top soccer player."
The Capello camp are rather more confident that Aaron Lennon will make a full recovery in good time for the squad announcement on 1 June. The winger has a problem with scar tissue around a groin injury but – despite Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp's pessimism – they expect Lennon to be back in action by April.
The right-sided, left-footed Manchester City winger Adam Johnson, who scored the equaliser against Sunderland on Sunday, has said that he still believes he can make a late bid for the World Cup squad. He is not under immediate consideration by Capello who is still looking at two from Lennon, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Theo Walcott. Nevertheless, further injuries could give him the opportunity.
Johnson said: "I don't know if the World Cup finals is in my sights. I would like to hope so but it is going to be a big ask. If I can score a few more goals then I'll get talked about and you never know, especially if a couple of injuries come along, but I have just got to concentrate on working hard with City."
The Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper Paul Robinson, who has fallen out of the England reckoning under Capello, is struggling with a calf problem and may not play again this season.
Dr Nicola Brewer explains how the British High Commission in South Africa is preparing for the 2010 World Cup:
As part of preparations for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, staff at the British High Commission in Pretoria ran a consular emergency planning exercise with staff from the FCO's Crisis Response Centre in London: