Plan C... for Carrick and Cole. And not forgetting Crouch

With Wayne Rooney injured, Sven must earn his money with a reshuffle
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The Independent Football

In one tangle of legs with Chelsea's Paulo Ferreira last Saturday, he made the transition from Man of the World to The Man who Fell to Earth. No doubt Uri Geller will be asking us to focus our positive thoughts before the month is out, but in reality it's impossible to believe that the most advanced medical attention and any Boy Scout chanting of "dyb-dyb-dyb" in an oxygen tent will hasten Wayne Rooney's recovery sufficiently.

Even as the Manchester United striker tumbled late in the game at Stamford Bridge, clutching that fractured right foot, he probably knew immediately that, just as his first Euro-pean Championship had been truncated prematurely, so this summer's aspirations had been shattered too. It induced instant nausea among anyone with a vested interest in England's progress. It would have been surprising if, around the world, reports of the incident did not bring quiet relief to the coaches of England's rivals.

Alternative strategies, something Sven Goran Eriksson struggles with at the best of times, suddenly become not just an option but a necessity. Except it is not that straightforward. That total of £20 million from which he will have benefited in his years here becomes slightly less of a piece of outrageous FA extravagance.

When your whole planning and philosophy is based so profoundly on the contribution of one player, it is not merely a matter of replacing one individual, but of compensating for a presence as significant as Ronaldinho is for Brazil and Thierry Henry is for France. A "golden generation" of English footballers it may be deemed by many, but what does it become without its Sun King? There is not a chance that Rooney will place that foot on German soil unless Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson and his medical staff are totally satisfied he has recovered fully. Even then his match fitness will be deficient. Significantly, Ferguson has emphasised that he believes England would be making a grave mistake by returning Rooney to action too early, a view he supports by reminding us that "David Beckham [recovering from a similar injury] was not fit enough when he went to the [2002] World Cup."

But Wayne-less should not mean Aimless. While many, including those in the media, will continue to focus on the negatives of Rooney's absence, and the possibility that Michael Owen may be far from fully fit, it is crucial that Eriksson accentuates the positives. And they do exist, notably in Plan C, utilising Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and, possibly, Peter Crouch.

Rooney's injury, damaging though it is, also liberates Eriksson. But Joe Cole, who has matured greatly under Jose Mourinho into a performer blessed with the dancing shoes of Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo with rather more discipline to his game, must fulfil those expectations which were thrust on his shoulders since he first entranced us as a youngster at Upton Park. Just before Rooney took his enforced leave last Saturday, Cole, the player who captained West Ham when as young as 20 before his £6.6m move to Stamford Bridge in 2003, demonstrated his right to be considered in the same breath as that player by outwitting Rio Ferdinand and scoring a goal rich in quality.

Various authentic strikers could emerge in place of Rooney, including Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe and maybe even Dean Ashton, though doubts persist about all those players at international level. Eriksson may prefer to ask Cole to deputise for Rooney, and play off Crouch, in a Little 'n' Large duo, that is if Owen struggles to face Paraguay in England's first game.

The Chelsea man lacks Rooney's physical prowess, and, it must be said, his dynamism. He is also accused of "acting the star" on occasions by those close to Mourinho, hence the Portuguese's occasional acts (the substitution at Fulham after 25 minutes) to ground that ego. But the feisty midfielder is exciting, unpredictable and a goalscorer, with 13 this season.

Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing, whose name would surely be promoted by his club manager, Steve McClaren, Eriksson's No 2 and successor, could occupy the left-flank berth vacated by the Chelsea man. However, merely shoehorning Cole into Rooney's empty boots still leaves questions about the midfield behind; that perennially congested one containing Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. It would be another option to maintain Cole on the left, and elevate Gerrard to feature as a withdrawn striker behind Owen or Crouch. David Beckham, an automatic selection under Eriksson, would remain on the right. Crucially, Tottenham's Carrick would anchor things in a holding role behind them.

Eriksson will be under intense pressure to introduce Carrick, whose form has been a revelation this season. He is a fine reader of the game, and his passing is exemplary, though possibly what the Geordie does not needis a reported interest from Manchester United, said to be prepared to invest £10m in him. Something tells you that price- tag could increase considerably if Eriksson employs this enforced reshuffle effectively.

Suddenly the Swede, who had imagined that his England limousine would purr powerfully from the garage, is having to jump-start one of several back-up vehicles. There may just be a nice little motor among them.

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