Fabio Capello yesterday resolved to give Gareth Barry up until Tuesday's deadline for the World Cup finals squad in order to prove his fitness, after the Manchester City midfielder came through a positive examination in London.
Barry will head south from Manchester at the weekend to do further tests on his injured right ankle, on which he has not yet been able to run. So far the only jogging he has been able to do has been in a pool, where his weight is not concentrated on the injured area.
The inclusion of the 29-year-old is regarded as even more critical by Capello and his assistants after the disappointing performance from his stand-in Michael Carrick against Mexico at Wembley in England's 3-1 win. The England squad returned to their base in Irdning in central Austria yesterday with Barry still very much a part of the England manager's plans if he can prove that he can play as late as their second group game against Algeria on 18 June.
On Monday night Capello emphasised the importance of Barry, who has missed just three of the 23 England internationals which Capello has been in charge for. "Barry always played with me," he said. "He is one of the important players, after [Owen] Hargreaves [was injured] it was Gareth Barry. He is really important." Capello played down the poor performance of Carrick, preferring to blame the poor first-half showing on the entire team. "In the first-half we didn't play well. We scored two goals but Mexico had more chances. They missed some and [Robert] Green saved two times. But it is not one player. For me the performance is the performance of the team, not one player."
But Capello does now seem minded to use Steven Gerrard in the holding role if Barry doesn't make it to the final 23, with the Liverpool captain's impressive second-half display after taking over a central role from James Milner on Monday evening reinforcing his potential there – even though it would deprive Capello of the opportunity to deploy the Liverpool captain off Wayne Rooney.
It seems unlikely that Barry will be ready to play a part in what possibly will be England's toughest match in group C, against the US in Rustenburg on the evening of 12 June, though Capello can at least take encouragement from the fact that Barry's morning meeting yesterday with the England doctor Ian Beasley and physio Gary Lewin, plus the City club doctor Jamie Butler, under whose care he has been during the England squad's absence in Irdning, did not rule him out of playing a part in the finals. The meeting, put back 24 hours to yesterday because the England squad's day off freed up Beasley and Lewin, did not entail any diagnostic work to establish the extent of repair to the ruptured ligaments in the ankle but was an opportunity for the two sets of medical staffs to discuss the recuperation programme.
Ledley King does not seem to view himself as an emergency holding midfielder. "I'm not sure about that, a lot has changed since I last played there. With not training, midfield is a different role and it's different on the body," he said. Rooney's own niggles persist, the latest being the soreness in his neck which led him to ask Capello if he could leave the field two minutes before the end of the Mexico match. "I have got a bit of a stiff neck after the game today, but that should pass in the next day or two," Rooney said, though his general demeanour late on Monday night revealed a growing irritation with the scrutiny associated with England's impending campaign.
Rooney confirmed that Capello did not want him to risk injury by training too intensively. "You have got to try not to injure yourself or your team-mates, so you have to hold back sometimes in tackles in training to make sure you're both OK," he said. Rooney has actually only scored once in seven games for England now. "Of course I'd like to score, but that's the way it is. If it doesn't happen I'm glad it's in a friendly and not in the World Cup," he said. "Hopefully, I'm saving them up for then."