Fabio Capello is at last considering the Tottenham defender Michael Dawson for selection for the England World Cup squad as his injury worries in the centre of defence have got worse.
Either the England manager or his general manager Franco Baldini will be at Old Trafford on Saturday to watch Dawson in action for Spurs against Manchester United having tracked the player's progress over the last four weeks. Capello is increasingly aware that he cannot ignore the claims of the in-form defender with so many doubts over his England regulars.
Capello has never picked Dawson for an England squad in more than two years in the job, preferring the likes of Gary Cahill and Ryan Shawcross when he has had to make up the numbers.
However, the Capello camp has been impressed with Dawson's form even before Spurs' wins over Arsenal and Chelsea and he now has a chance of a place in the 30-man provisional squad to be named on 16 May.
Dawson, 26, is uncapped by England and arguably would not play in the Spurs team were it not for the longstanding injuries to Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate.
He has come under consideration because so many of Capello's regulars are struggling for fitness with only John Terry and Matthew Upson of the usual quartet of centre-backs currently playing for their clubs.
Capello watched both the Manchester derby and the Spurs victory against Chelsea at White Hart Lane on Saturday very much aware that many of his squad for South Africa are finding themselves waylaid by injuries or simply out of favour at their clubs.
From the 23 players who are favourites to go to the tournament this summer, there were 19 whose clubs were in action over the weekend (excluding Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Upson and Robert Green). Six of those 19 – Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole, Michael Carrick and Aaron Lennon – did not figure at all.
In addition, Joe Cole was substituted at half-time at White Hart Lane by Carlo Ancelotti, Emile Heskey came on for Aston Villa against Portsmouth with only 18 minutes remaining, Peter Crouch has a bronchial problem and played only the injury-time of Spurs' game and Wayne Rooney did not look fully fit against Manchester City.
It is the problems among Capello's centre-backs that are most pressing. Ferdinand missed United's game against City because of his recurrent fitness problems. Brown, Capello's back-up right back after Johnson, and also cover at centre-back, was not in the squad for the City game either. Lescott is still recovering from a hamstring problem.
The Capello camp has been given assurances from club medical departments that key players such as Ashley Cole and Ferdinand will be fit to play in South Africa but privately they admit they will only know that for sure when the squad meets for the first time on 17 May.
They have also been told that Lennon, who has not played since 28 December, will join full training at Spurs this week.
Dawson's manager at Tottenham, Harry Redknapp, said on Saturday that he had no doubts about the player's capacity to make the step up to international football. "Dawson is a fantastic centre-half and a great lad," said Redknapp. "He's an old-fashioned type of player, very committed. But he is also a great passer of the ball. He's a competitor, a player who gives everything."
Fulham striker Bobby Zamora is also understood to be in Capello's thoughts for this summer's World Cup as an alternative to Heskey.
ENGLAND'S WEEKEND REPORT
*Rio Ferdinand: injured, longstanding back problems
*Joleon Lescott: hamstring injury
*Wes Brown: out with foot injury
*Ashley Cole: recovering from broken ankle
*Aaron Lennon: groin injury since December
*Michael Carrick: dropped since second leg against Bayern Munich
*Peter Crouch: bronchial problem, late substitute against Chelsea
*Emile Heskey: out of favour, late substitute against Portsmouth
*Joe Cole: replaced half-time v Spurs
*Hart, James, Terry, Baines, Lampard, Barry, Walcott, Milner, Rooney and Defoe were all selected for their clubs
*Gerrard, Johnson, Upson and Green all started last night at Anfield