England's preparations for tomorrow night's friendly against Germany turned ever more chaotic yesterday with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard the latest players to pull out of Fabio Capello's squad. The withdrawals take to seven, and arguably eight, the total of probable first-choice players who are absent with Jimmy Bullard and Scott Parker called up.
Although scans yesterday confirmed Gerrard's adductor muscle injury – he faces a race against time to feature in Liverpool's Champions League tie at home to Marseilles next Wednesday – and Lampard's damaged ribs, Capello was determined to exercise his right for the players to join up with the rest of the squad and be assessed by the Football Association. The England manager wanted to send a clear message to Premier League clubs that he will not simply take their word that players are injured and has stressed his determination to play it by the book under Fifa regulations. He is certainly not worried about offending other managers.
Capello's stance is intended as a warning to clubs that they need to comply in the future. He is frustrated by the withdrawals but is more concerned that there is not a repeat of what he feels has been a lack of information from Liverpool concerning Gerrard. The England camp have contrasted the way in which Manchester United told them in advance that Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney could not play – and neither featured for United on Saturday – with Liverpool's announcement on Sunday concerning Gerrard which came after he had played the full 90 minutes against Bolton. Gerrard was also, controversially, pulled out of the squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Croatia and Capello is keen for Liverpool's manager Rafael Benitez to know that he will have the final say.
Capello does not in any way blame Gerrard for the circumstances surrounding his withdrawal and it is understood that the midfielder was desperate to be involved and did not object to having to travel to the team hotel on Sunday to be assessed. And neither is Capello angry with Lampard who was hurt against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. Indeed there was immediate concern over Lampard's fitness with Bullard and Parker notified on Sunday – ahead of another candidate, Tom Huddlestone, who it is felt needs to play more consistently – that they were on stand-by and should not go away. Ironically John Terry, who had been the biggest doubt, was passed fit yesterday. A scan showed he had suffered nothing more than bruising to his foot.
In addition to Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney and Ferdinand, England have also lost Wes Brown, Ashley Cole, Joe Cole, Emile Heskey, Jermaine Jenas, Joe Hart and long-term absentee Owen Hargreaves while David Beckham was excluded because he lacked match fitness. While severely reducing Capello's options, and calling into question the wisdom of holding a friendly match in the middle of November, it is understood that the manager does not feel the fixture in Berlin is meaningless. Capello is keen for England to play a match, against strong opponents such as the Germans, partly because there is not another fixture until February and his team will not play a competitive match until they host Ukraine at Wembley on 1 April. Although he has just five players who started the World Cup qualifier away to Belarus, he will now be able to experiment even if Capello is also acutely aware that the strong rivalry between England and Germany does not usually warrant such a move.
One of those likely to benefit is Michael Carrick whose absence from previous squads has mainly been due to injury. Carrick stressed yesterday that his withdrawals have been genuine and not been the result of duress from Sir Alex Ferguson. "He's never put me under pressure not to play in a friendly," said Carrick. "He has his own agenda and there are things to be won at domestic level. But, as players, we have to put that to one side."
Germany have included three uncapped players in a weakened squad which does not feature the fit-again Michael Ballack nor his friend Torsten Frings who have been involved in a public spat with coach Joachim Löw. Yesterday, Löw said he felt England were at their best for some time under Capello. "After failing to reach Euro 2008 England have changed," Löw said. "They have taken huge steps forwards and what we have seen of them and analysed over the last few days have shown us that England at the moment are the strongest they have been for years."Reuse content