Manchester City's Wayne Bridge has one more week to make himself available for this summer's World Cup squad before Fabio Capello pencils in the list of 30 names that must be submitted to Fifa a fortnight on Tuesday. Capello is prepared to wait until the start of next week for a definite decision on whether Bridge (who limped off injured at Arsenal last night) can bring himself to share hotels and dressing-rooms with his former friend and captain John Terry, who is alleged to have had an affair with Bridge's former girlfriend. There is no sign, however, that the normally mild-mannered Bridge is inclined to change his stance.
Even in a week's time it would be wise for England's head coach to use pencil rather than ink for his provisional list. His mantra has always been that players need to be fit and playing regularly, but at present almost a third of the contenders are not fulfilling one or other of those requirements. There is frustration, too, that the 30 names must be faxed the day before the Europa League final, which could involve Liverpool and Fulham, and four days before the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Portsmouth, which features five England players.
Further injuries in the run-in are always possible, at a stage when there is insufficient time for serious ones to heal properly; it was this week four years ago that Wayne Rooney crumpled to the turf at Stamford Bridge with a broken metatarsal, and England's talisman was missing at Old Trafford yesterday with a groin injury which will keep him out for "two to three weeks", according to his club manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
Where England are unusual is that with no friendlies from 3 March to 24 May, there are at least four players under consideration who have not even been in the squad all season. Two are comparative old-stagers not seen since 2007, Gary Neville and Ledley King, and two are new faces, Michael Dawson and Bobby Zamora.
In Neville's case, vast experience (85 caps and five major tournaments) has to be balanced against a decline in pace that could be exposed by faster and younger opponents, as Bayern Munich's Franck Ribéry demonstrated recently. United team-mate Wes Brown failed to nail down the right-back position at Old Trafford during Neville's long absence and has only just resumed training after suffering the metatarsal curse. Brown's advantage, like another absentee, Joleon Lescott, is that he can cover full-back as well as another area beset by problems, central defence. Rio Ferdinand's injury problems and John Terry's form are of equal concern and have brought Everton's Phil Jagielka and Dawson into the picture.
The other great question, which will surely have to be answered in the negative, is whether Ledley King – restricted to one game a week and virtually no training at Tottenham – can be taken to a tournament in which England's fixture schedule, if successful, would run Saturday-Friday-Wednesday-Saturday. Capello, a great admirer of the Spurs man, will conclude that his inclusion is impossible if there are any doubts about another central defender's fitness, which will almost certainly be the case.
Ashley Cole's proposed return for Chelsea today will be carefully monitored, as will the performance of the Everton left-back Leighton Baines against Fulham. Baines and Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock will contest the role as Cole's understudy, assuming that Bridge is not in contention.
The one area of the team where names for the final 23 can confidently be written down today is goalkeeper. David James, Robert Green and Joe Hart will go barring injury. With James involved in the Cup final, a stand-by will be required for the list; presumably Blackburn's Paul Robinson.
Midfield offers an abundance of wide players and a reliable clutch of central ones that could be augmented by James Milner or Joe Cole if injury struck. Aaron Lennon, first choice on the right until a 16-week absence which ended yesterday, must prove he can recover his speed and vim, as Theo Walcott and Shaun Wright-Phillips have been best used as impact subs.
Fulham's Zamora, once thought to lack international quality and still hardly prolific in the Premier League (eight goals this season), is still pushing the inconsistent Carlton Cole for what may be a fifth striker's spot in South Africa. Emile Heskey's role at Villa appears to be as a late (often very late) substitute for John Carew, and Peter Crouch is being squeezed out at Tottenham by a rejuvenated Roman Pavlyuchenko.
No wonder Rooney appears to be stooping at times; the weight of a nation's hopes is pressing down more heavily than ever on his shoulders.
Squad (probable): James (Portsmouth), Green (West Ham), Hart (Birmingham), Robinson (Blackburn); Johnson (Liverpool), Neville (Manchester Utd), Ferdinand (Manchester Utd), Terry (Chelsea), Upson (West Ham), Brown (Manchester Utd), Lescott (Everton), Dawson (Tottenham), A Cole (Chelsea), Baines (Everton); Lennon (Tottenham), Walcott (Arsenal), Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Milner (Aston Villa), J Cole (Chelsea), Young (Aston Villa); Lampard (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool), Barry (Manchester City), Carrick (Manchester United); Rooney (Manchester United), Crouch (Tottenham), Heskey (Aston Villa), Defoe (Tottenham), Cole (West Ham), Zamora (Fulham).