Michael Owen was excluded from the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Croatia simply because he has not regained full fitness and not because the manager, Fabio Capello, has deliberately snubbed him. The decision to leave out the 28-year-old came after the England coach watched Newcastle United's 3-0 defeat away to Arsenal on Saturday.
Capello has a policy of only selecting players who are fully fit – which is one reason why he has excluded Tottenham Hotspur's Jonathan Woodgate, who has a slight stomach injury. Although Owen has scored twice for Newcastle this season, he has started only one game after recovering from a calf injury and mumps.
Capello is understood to believe Owen still has a future in international football, not least because England have few alternatives to the striker, who has scored 40 goals in 89 appearances for his country but has played just 45 minutes since the Italian took over.
Capello had travelled to the Emirates with the intention of including Owen if he was convinced that the player was fit, but he was disappointed by what he saw. Nevertheless, leaving Owen out is a risky strategy for Capello, whose attacking options are limited to Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey, Theo Walcott and Jermain Defoe, who appears certain to start against Andorra on Saturday.
When he took charge of England Capello did have reservations about Owen, believing his future might be limited to being an impact player from the bench. It could be argued that Owen's continuing injury problems have simply confirmed his reservations.
Capello also sprang another surprise by selecting Fulham's Jimmy Bullard, but he and his scouts have been hugely impressed by the 29-year-old's displays at the end of last season and the start of this campaign and have been eager to add some new blood to the squad. Without the injured Steven Gerrard, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick, Capello's options were again limited but he is adamant that he will select players on performances not reputations.
Capello did consider including Manchester City's Michael Johnson but, again, the midfielder is not believed to be fully fit. Another option was Tottenham Hotspur's Tom Huddlestone but it was decided he was needed for the Uefa Under-21 Championship qualifier against Portugal at Wembley this Friday – a game he is likely to start – rather than simply be in the senior squad. Aston Villa's Nigel Reo-Coker was discussed as another choice but it was decided Bullard, because of his greater creativity, should have his chance.
Interestingly, Capello would have included Hargreaves if the 27-year-old had played for Manchester United in last Friday's Super Cup fixture against Zenit St Petersburg. The United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, had said he would include the midfielder but added that he would not be fit enough to be selected by England.
Capello is not fazed by the prospect of upsetting club managers and would have exercised his right to call up Hargreaves, so that his knee injury could be assessed by England's own doctors, if he had featured in Monaco. Indeed, Capello travelled to the principality in the hope of seeing the player in action as well as to run the rule over United's other England squad members.