Steve McClaren said yesterday that England could still get to Euro 2008 despite losing Wayne Rooney to a training ground accident that rules him out of the last qualifier against Croatia. Coming just an hour after the England manager had made an impassioned plea to stay in the job come what may, Rooney's injury was a bad omen as McClaren faces his day of reckoning.
The England manager was told of the news soon after he had gone on the front foot by saying that he had the backing of key figures at the Football Association and should not be sacked if his team fail to qualify for Euro 2008. He was adamant that he was "the right man" to lead the national team to the 2010 World Cup finals, despite qualification for Euro 2008 being out of England's hands.
Speaking for the first time since defeat to Russia last month turned qualification on its head, McClaren came out fighting. With the sack beckoning if England fail to make Euro 2008, McClaren was bullish when he said that he believed the team under his leadership "would be successful in the future". Up until now, McClaren has refused to discuss his own future in the event of failure to qualify for Euro 2008, but yesterday he indirectly challenged the FA to back him.
He named the influential figures Brian Barwick [FA chief executive], chairman Geoff Thompson and Noel White and Dave Richards, also the Premier League chairman, as having been "supportive" of him. "I really do believe that [I am the right man for the job]," McClaren said. "Purely on the evidence of what we have done over the last seven to nine months. Certainly how we handled the aftermath of Israel and Andorra [matches in March], the way the team came together and the backing I have received from everyone in the organisation."
With his future in doubt, the Rooney injury was another blow to McClaren after he had earlier left John Terry out the squad to play Croatia on 21 November. Before that match, on Friday, England have a friendly against Austria. Ultimately, it will be results elsewhere that dictate their Euro 2008 fate. But as McClaren was talking up Israel's chances of beating Russia next Saturday, Rooney was being helped from the pitch at United's Carrington training ground.
The 22-year-old left Carrington on crutches yesterday after a collision that left club coaching staff fearing that he could have done a far more serious – potentially season-ending – injury. The early signs are that it was not that bad, yet it will be Peter Crouch who is now the favourite to partner Michael Owen in attack over the next two games.
McClaren described the news that Rooney was out as "hugely disappointing " although in Crouch he has a striker who has scored 12 international goals in 22 caps. "It's a massive blow but a set-back we have dealt with before, it simply means an opportunity for someone else," McClaren said. "We won't be calling up any other strikers."
The decision to leave out Terry was strange given that there is still a good chance that the England captain will recover from knee surgery in time to play Croatia – he has been running at Chelsea's training ground this week. However, the Chelsea manager Avram Grant implied yesterday that the club had put pressure on Terry himself not to play in the game.
Grant said: "In the last [England] game against Russia I also thought that he [Terry] should not play but we left the decision to Steve McClaren and JT and he did everything to play. I think he did damage to himself. As a former national coach I respect every player who wants to pay for his team. He [Terry] agrees he is not fit."
First McClaren has to hope that Russia drop points against Israel next Saturday or that Croatia lose away to Macedonia to give his side a fighting chance of qualifying with a win over the Croats. With Rio Ferdinand suspended, he will have to pick a team that is likely to feature Sol Campbell and Wes Brown in the centre of defence. David Beckham is back in the squad for the first time since the Germany friendly in August although McClaren said the player was not guaranteed "a place in the team or on the bench".
However, with England facing the prospect of not qualifying for their first major tournament since 1994, the main agenda was the future of the manager after 21 November. If England do not make it to Euro 2008, the FA will have to decide whether McClaren will travel with a delegation departing on 23 November to the 2010 World Cup qualifying draw in South Africa.
Should he not be on that plane, McClaren's fate will surely be sealed. He said yesterday: "I want to go on, I love this job. I've got faith and belief in these players. I think that is the key thing. The performances we have had give me that. I can't control what happens and I don't want to comment on what might happen. The campaign is not over and we're still in. Until we're out that's when all the debate will start.
"I want to carry on. We are going forward. I believe that. Yes, the first six or seven months it was difficult, turning things around, building the confidence back up. I think we've taken quite a few hits – but we've taken those hits and been stronger for it. The way we've been playing of late I can say that's how I want the England team to play."
With England's best chance of qualifying lying in Israel taking points off Russia on 17 November, McClaren said all Europe would be watching the game in Tel Aviv.
"They have a fantastic home record, we have to get behind the Israelis and say we need a performance from them," McClaren said. "The whole of Europe will be looking at that game. Israel will know that. They will know they have to perform."
McClaren's England squad
Squad for the friendly v Austria on 16 November and the Euro 2008 qualifier v Croatia on 21 November:
* Goalkeepers: Robinson (Tottenham), James (Portsmouth), Carson (Liverpool, on loan at Aston Villa).
* Defenders: Richards (Man City), P Neville (Everton), Brown (Man Utd), Campbell (Portsmouth), Lescott (Everton), A Cole (Chelsea), Bridge (Chelsea), Shorey (Reading).
* Midfielders: Beckham (LA Galaxy), Wright-Phillips (Chelsea), Bentley (Blackburn), Lampard (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool), Barry (Aston Villa), J Cole (Chelsea), Downing (Middlesbrough), Hargreaves (Man Utd), Young (Aston Villa).
* Strikers: Owen (Newcastle), Crouch (Liverpool), Smith (Newcastle), Defoe (Tottenham).
McClaren's missing links: England's injured XI
Ben Foster (Knee)
Gary Neville (Calf)
John Terry (Knee)
Jonathan Woodgate (Hamstring)
Ledley King (Knee)
Scott Parker (Knee)
Kieron Dyer (Leg)
Jermaine Pennant (Leg)
Dean Ashton (Knee)
Emile Heskey (Metatarsal)
Wayne Rooney (Ankle)Reuse content