Fabio Capello has resolved to give Ledley King every chance possible to make the provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup finals when he announces it on 16 May, but he is still not certain whether he will be able to pick the injury-plagued Tottenham captain for his final squad.
The Capello camp are increasingly worried about the fitness of Rio Ferdinand and are exploring the possible permutations should the captain not be fit enough to go to South Africa on 2 June. King has figured prominently in discussions between Capello and his assistants and they are prepared to give the 29-year-old the maximum amount of time to prove himself.
King has been named in previous squads by Capello but has never been sufficiently fit to play. The defender's last cap was against Estonia in June 2007 under Steve McClaren. In the course of scouting Spurs' centre-back Michael Dawson as a possible World Cup squad contender, Capello has told his coaches that King has performed so well that it would be shame if they were to rule him out of contention.
King has not been informed that he will definitely be part of the England squad – simply because his inclusion will rely heavily upon whether Ferdinand is fit to play. King's chances of being picked will be reduced if it is decided that Ferdinand is fit to go because Capello cannot afford to take two defenders of dubious fitness.
There is also a sense in the England camp that they do not yet know for sure how suitable King would be to play tournament football, given his degenerative knee problem. The Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp, has always said the player requires six days' rest between games but the England medical staff would like to make their own assessment.
King has made just 17 league appearances for Spurs this year – though that is six more than Ferdinand has managed for Manchester United. The situation is changing weekly for Capello, who has had to configure his defensive plans around the fitness of Ferdinand.
Another defender being scouted by Capello camp is Everton's Phil Jagielka, who returned in February from nine months out with a ruptured cruciate knee ligament. He made a slow start but has since made 11 appearances for his club and is now looking more like the player he was before the injury.
Initially concerned by his first few performances, the Capello camp now regard Jagielka, who has three caps for England, as cover for Wes Brown – not yet back after a broken foot – as he can play at right-back as well as centre-back.
Jagielka knows his lengthy absence leaves him with only an outside chance of boarding the plane to South Africa, but he is hoping he has played enough since his return to be in contention. "I'd like to, I've made no bones about that, but I don't pick the squads. I'll just have to wait and see what Mr Capello wants to do and go from there."
Capello is also waiting on the fitness of Joleon Lescott who, with 18 league appearances this season, has played only one more game than King.