Sven Goran Eriksson and the top brass of the Football Association must soon confront the dilemma over whether Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate of Leeds United and Chelsea's John Terry can be considered for World Cup service.
The Swede's desire to evaluate every conceivable option before the summer would naturally include Bowyer, whose aggression and surging runs from deep could be so beneficial to England, and the two quality young central defenders Woodgate and Terry. But the FA have to take into account public reaction to the trio's off-field behaviour which has culminated in court appearances.
"It's a decision the FA and I have to take before the next game on Bowyer, Woodgate and Terry," said Eriksson, asked whether they should represent their country. "We will have to get together. It's very difficult to say what's right and what's wrong. I think you should always listen to the critics. But you should try to have your own opinions. You must take a decision and then stand by it. We will be criticised what-ever decision we take."
Although Bowyer was acquitted of all charges following an assault on a student in Leeds, his conduct that night was condemned by his manager. He is also the subject of a civil action by the victim. The midfielder is currently serving a ban following an incident at Highbury in August, which under FA rules kept him out of Wednesday's friendly against Holland, but will be available by the time England play Italy in their next friendly, coincidentally at Elland Road, on 27 March.
Woodgate, who performed with distinction on his only international outing against Bulgaria in 1999, was found guilty of affray concerning the same incident and is currently carrying out community service, but again will have completed that by the Italy game.
Both Bowyer and Woodgate were excluded from England consideration while charges against them were pending, and it is understood that the FA would prefer if that bar was continued. Terry, who has captained the England Under-21 side, faces charges arising from an incident at a nightclub last month.
Eriksson has warned Kieron Dyer that time is not on his side if he wants to claim a place in his squad. The Newcastle midfielder, who impressed during his brief return to Bobby Robson's side, is likely to be out for two months with another injury, a stress fracture of the foot.
Dyer himself spoke of his fears that he would not make it back in time to be considered for Japan and Korea and the England coach stressed: "I think it would be very difficult to pick him if he hasn't played for England before the World Cup. I have spoken to Bobby Robson about Dyer. He told me that he wouldn't play again for six to eight weeks. It is very tight for the Italy game."
"When I found out about the injury I was gutted," Dyer said. "Things were going well for me since my return from my shin problem. The team were flying and my form was good. To hear Tord Grip [Eriksson's assistant] saying I would definitely have played against the Dutch had I been fit makes it hurt even more. I think it may have ruined my chance of making it. It doesn't matter how good my club form is, I have to prove I can fit into the England system."
For all his potential, Dyer's previous displays in an England shirt have not been entirely convincing. Eriksson will require some convincing that not only does the former Ipswich man warrant a place in terms of what he can contribute to England but, more crucially, his ability to stand up to the rigours of World Cup competition, particularly as the Swede is conscious that there are several other players who are also vulnerable to injury. "We have done tests with the players, and we have asked the clubs for results of those tests," Eriksson said. "I am not worried about Dyer's stamina. He seems to be able to run twice 90 minutes if necessary. But it is the injury which worries me."
Eriksson added: "I know he is a very good footballer, but the World Cup is three games in 10 days. If you have players in that squad who you are not sure can play all the time, well, I think that's not fair. After 45 minutes you could lose a player, and that would be very bad. It is for that reason that I must be certain."Reuse content