Fabio Capello has warned the Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll that he must get his chaotic private life in order if he is to have an international career beyond his debut in tonight's friendly against France.
The England manager, who rarely speaks about players' lives off the pitch, has left Carroll in no doubt that this is a key moment in his career. The Newcastle No 9 has the chance to impress against the French tonight and stake a claim to become the target man for the national side, a role that has been vacated since Emile Heskey's retirement from international football following last summer's World Cup.
But Capello made it clear yesterday that no matter how well he plays tonight, Carroll must end the wild behaviour that has made him the centre of several tabloid stories.
Carroll is due in court in January accused of assaulting his former girlfriend. Two weeks ago, he was allegedly seen having breakfast in McDonald's at 5.45am after an all-night drinking session with the Newcastle captain, Kevin Nolan.
Capello is prepared to draw a line under Carroll's list of misdemeanours, as long as the 6ft 3in striker mends his ways. "Everyone makes mistakes when they're young. He's really young. He's 21. We have to help him," Capello said yesterday. "But he has to understand now that he's in the senior team, and there will be journalists, photographers, everyone focusing on him. Life will be different now. His behaviour has to be better. He can't make mistakes like he made before. He has to change [his lifestyle], to be careful in every moment. We have to help him do that."
Capello said that the striker would have been called up for last month's Euro 2012 qualifier with Montenegro but for his ill-judged behaviour, which included failing to report to have an injury assessed for the England Under-21 squad in September.
The Italian added: "We didn't select him for the last game. Now, I think, we picked him because he can improve after this game, after he's stayed with us, because he's young. You have to help young people, and we are helping him. It's a big chance – to play with the seniors and to change his lifestyle. A big chance. I hope that he will understand what really happens when you play with the seniors."
Carroll has shrugged off a groin injury to line up tonight alongside fellow debutant Jordan Henderson of Sunderland in a new-look England team that also includes Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs at left-back.
Henderson starts because Jack Wilshere, the Arsenal midfielder, was forced to withdraw yesterday with a bruised thigh, the 12th player ruled out through injury. The first-choice goalkeeper Joe Hart is a doubtful starter, having jarred his back in a training session at Wembley yesterday. Ben Foster is set to replace him. Steven Gerrard also suffered a back strain yesterday but is expected to take his place in the side, playing just behind Carroll as a lone striker.
Rio Ferdinand, who captains the side, said young players like Carroll cannot afford to get sucked into the habit of late nights and drinking. "That was part of the culture when I was growing up as a kid," he said. "The players I looked up to at West Ham, their social lives were a big part of their lives. Nowadays, you can't afford to do that.
"You're playing against teams that are physically in tip-top condition. If you're going out there and are not in the same physical condition, you can't do yourself or your team justice."
Back in 1997, the then England manager, Glenn Hoddle, decided to delay handing Ferdinand his first cap following the defender's conviction for drink- driving. The Manchester United player, who was 19 at the time, admitted yesterday he wished he had learnt sooner to curb his lifestyle, and used the example of Michael Owen as a role model.
Ferdinand said: "You benefit football-wise. It's not just that you want to become a better professional. You become a better player, in simple terms. Look at someone like Michael Owen – I've always used him as an example because we came through at the same time, went to the 1998 World Cup, and we had two different outlooks on life. I was a social butterfly. He was a real professional, who had a good structure around him and knew exactly what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go. It took me longer to get where I am than it took him."