Jamie Carragher is on the verge of making a remarkable return to international football in time to be named in Fabio Capello's 30-man provisional World Cup finals squad on Tuesday.
The Liverpool defender retired from international football in the summer of 2007 after he became disillusioned with the inconsistency with which he was treated under the Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren regimes. However, with England in dire need of top-quality players, the 32-year-old has been approached to come to the rescue.
His return would be a major boost to England's World Cup prospects with Gareth Barry now certain to miss the tournament. Manchester City said yesterday that the midfielder will be out for four weeks with the ankle injury he picked up against Tottenham on Wednesday but the Capello camp fear that it will be twice as long as that.
Still one of the best defenders in the Premier League, Carragher – who last played for England against Brazil in May 2007 – is popular among the squad and highly-rated by Capello and his staff. The doubts over the durability of Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King's fitness for the tournament in South Africa means that Carragher could well make England's starting line-up.
Carragher is thought to be enthusiastic about the return to international football and it is to be hoped that he is not discouraged by those who have been critical of him in the past. A strong, single-minded character, his main concern is likely to be how a long summer tournament would affect his season for Liverpool.
Carragher picked up an ankle injury in Liverpool's defeat to Chelsea on Sunday and is not expected to figure against Hull City tomorrow. One of his many qualities is his ability to play in the centre of defence or at right-back. That makes him invaluable cover for Wes Brown, still recovering from a broken foot sustained in March, and a major doubt for the World Cup squad.
The final straw for Carragher in 2007 was when he was left out by McClaren in the game immediately after the Brazil friendly. Having played right-back at Wembley, he was replaced by Brown for the Euro 2008 qualifier against Estonia in Tallinn one week later.
The situation with Carragher is sensitive but it is indicative of just how highly Capello rates the player that he has never given up on trying to persuade him to return to international football in the two years that he has been in the England job. A football aficionado who had already agreed to be a World Cup pundit for TalkSport radio, Carragher's return would be the best news England have had in three months of injuries and loss of form among key players. With Barry out of the tournament, Capello has lost a midfielder who has played in all but three of his 22 games in charge. It means that Michael Carrick's fears of being left behind are allayed and opens the door for Tottenham midfielder Tom Huddlestone to claim a place in the 23-man squad.
Huddlestone, who won his first cap against Brazil in Qatar in November, is set to be part of the 30-man squad. Capello has always rated the 23-year-old and places him above Scott Parker in the midfield pecking order. Owen Hargreaves, hitherto out of consideration, will now have to be reassessed to see if he is fit enough to be part of the 30-man squad.
Capello will finetune his final 30-man selection on Monday to make the announcement the following day. His final 23 players will be announced on 1 June but Fifa allows "seriously injured" players to be replaced up to 24 hours before a side's first match – in England's case against the United States on 12 June.