Gerrard to miss 'minimum of eight weeks'

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The Independent Football

Steven Gerrard was told yesterday he would be out of senior action until December after breaking a metatarsal in his left foot at Old Trafford on Monday night.

Steven Gerrard was told yesterday he would be out of senior action until December after breaking a metatarsal in his left foot at Old Trafford on Monday night. The Liverpool captain, who incurred the injury as he turned to receive a pass, underwent a scan, which confirmed the initial diagnosis and indicated he would be out for "a minimum of eight weeks". Gerrard will miss Liverpool's Champions' League ties at Olympiakos and Monaco and home and away to Deportivo La Coruña. He will hope to return for the final group stage match, at home to Olympiakos, on 8 December.

Gerrard will also miss England's World Cup qualifiers next month against Wales and Azerbaijan, which is a blow to Sven Goran Eriksson but could provide David Beckham with the opportunity to relaunch his international career with a long-cherished move to central midfield. This would enable Eriksson to include the energetic Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right flank, thus adding a new dimension to England's attacking play. Past practice suggests the Swede is more likely to recall Nicky Butt in an anchor role behind Frank Lampard, but with England in a position to take command of qualifying Group Six he may continue the adventurous approach which served so well in Poland.

Eriksson, incidentally, took the opportunity yesterday to dismiss increasing speculation linking him with the vacant managerial post at Real Madrid. "I haven't spoken to anyone from that club," Eriksson said at a Uefa coaches' conference in Stockholm. "I have a contract and that's it. I haven't had any approaches from anyone ... It is not an issue to decide."

British newspapers reported that Real were looking for a permanent replacement for Jose Antonio Camacho, who resigned on Monday after four months, although the club appointed his former assistant Mariano Garcia Remon in his place.

Eriksson's stand may come as a disappointment to those elements within the Football Association who want him out. While the FA would have been entitled to £12m compensation had he gone to Real - a fee Florentino Perez, the Real president, would never have countenanced - Eriksson's enemies may have been prepared to cut a deal. Eriksson, though he has long talked of missing club football, feels he has "unfinished business" with England and intends to stay to at least 2006. Nor are conditions in Madrid, with Perez dictating transfer and playing policy, particularly attractive to leading managers, especially as Perez values players more highly and was unlikely to match Eriksson's current £4m-a-year salary. Camacho was on £1.2m per annum.

Eriksson is happy to stay as England are well placed to qualify for Germany 2006 despite Gerrard's injury. Wales, with thinner resources, will miss the suspended Robbie Savage more than England will Gerrard.

Although there may be further injuries to complicate matters before Wales cross Offa's Dyke there will also be returning stalwarts. While Rio Ferdinand was making his Manchester United comeback on Monday Sol Campbell was playing for Arsenal reserves and could play for the first team at the weekend. Wayne Rooney is expected to hear tomorrow that he should be fit to make his debut for Manchester United against Middlesbrough on 3 October, which would make him available for England. Sir Alex Ferguson has long been felt to have an ambivalent attitude, at best, to international call-ups but may consider that Rooney needs matches, especially if Eriksson offers to use him cautiously.

Gary Neville is less likely to be available. He is thought to be three weeks away from a first-team return. That could create an opening for Wes Brown, currently preferred to Phil Neville as Gary Neville's club understudy, especially as Jamie Carragher, who replaced Gary Neville in Poland, is operating in central defence at Liverpool.

Eriksson will have been pleased with Ferdinand's performance on Monday. After a poor first tackle on Luis Garcia, he settled to give an accomplished performance. His direct opponent, Djibril Cissé, was so marked out of the game that he was withdrawn and the replacement, Milan Baros, fared little better. Ferdinand's poise enabled Mikaël Silvestre and Brown to give their best performances of the season.

With Gabriel Heinze having settled quickly after his belated arrival, and Gary Neville returning, United's back four should soon again provide a championship-challenging platform. There are, though, continuing doubts about the goalkeeping position and central midfield where Roy Keane's ageing body cannot be expected to carry the team throughout the season. And Arsenal remain seven points distant.

The FA has another issue to settle, that of appointing a new chief executive. The process is expected to move on at next Wednesday's FA Board meeting, at which a shortlist will be drawn up.