For some members of the England squad, it has been a comfortable enough few days at Irdning, up in the Austrian Alps. Half a dozen – Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney – know that not only will they be among the 23 names that Fabio Capello finally reveals as his definitive World Cup squad this week, but that, fitness permitting, they are in the starting XI.
For the rest, there are doubts, and the worst of those must surround a player such as Michael Carrick, who must have believed for some time that he would be on the plane to South Africa on Wednesday. The injury to Manchester rival Gareth Barry, for whom he has been the regular understudy, and the failure of United team-mate Owen Hargreaves to recover quickly enough should have enhanced his claims. Yet when the chance came to pass through the security gate at Wembley in midweek, he froze and suddenly finds Tom Huddlestone and Scott Parker standing in line waving their passports.
"Froze" was not how Carrick chose to describe his four-out-of-10 performance against Mexico, when he was far from the only player in a white shirt to find clever little Mexican technicians playing their way round him. "Frustrating" was the word on his lips in that gentle Geordie accent. "It was a bit frustrating, I don't think we played anywhere near as well as we could as a team," he said. "We're happy with the win and it's a good habit to get into but there'll be other tests ahead. But just a frustrating night really."
What, specifically, of his own performance though? "Again, frustrating really. They had a lot of possession, a lot of players in midfield and we found it difficult to get close." Carrick's problem with England has always seemed to be that he is an essentially creative footballer forced increasingly to become a defensive one. Despite being a fine striker of the ball, he has never scored in 22 internationals. He is not a natural tackler and can sometimes look out of his depth against the highest quality opposition, such as in the later stages of the Champions' League and the World Cup. Sir Alex Ferguson rarely picked him towards the end of the season after a perceived error against Bayern Munich, and his confidence cannot be high.
At least he is experienced enough, at 28, to adopt a sensible approach: "You're not going into a game panicking, I don't think you can get yourself too worked up. You've just got to do your best and then it's up to the manager. If you're putting all sorts of pressure on yourself it's not going to do you any good at all. Obviously everyone's praying that their name's in the squad. We'll just have to wait and see." The waiting game is almost over.Reuse content