Last night his club announced that he had broken the fourth metatarsal in his foot and would be out for six weeks. He thus cannot play again until the tournament in Germany is already under way. So a nation full of perhaps unrealistic hopes for victory must hold its breath - just as it did four years ago with a foot injury to David Beckham.
With John Terry and Gary Neville both picking up knocks, and Ashley Cole yet to play after his injury, the only bright spot was that Michael Owen managed to stay upright for 30 minutes in his match yesterday.
But, if you thought England's build-up to this World Cup was bad, you should see what a mess the Football Association is making of preparations for the next one. Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Brazilian they wanted to succeed Sven-Goran Eriksson, has turned them down, and the man tipped as the next best thing was revealed yesterday to have conducted an affair with a secretary. Suddenly, it was as if the game was being run by the Home Office, another organisation that has trouble getting hold of wanted foreigners.
Scolari's reluctance to move from Portugal, where he manages the national side, was attributed to anything from a monstering by Fleet Street's finest, to death threats by Lisbon residents or a failure by the FA to offer him an annual salary equal to Brazil's national debt. But the wise heads of the game agreed that it was an FA cock-up worthy of the combined efforts of Charles Clarke and John Prescott.
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, said: "This is becoming a bit of a Whitehall farce." Former England star Alan Ball believed the FA had been made a "laughing stock". Others sawScolari's decisionas nature's way of telling the FA to choose an Englishman. Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp was of this school, as was Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, who said: "I have said all along this country is ready for an Englishman."
The press had a field day. Saturday's headlines included the Daily Mirror's "Kicked in the Brazil nuts" and The Daily Telegraph's "Another fine mess". The Daily Telegraph wrote that FA chief executive Brian Barwick resembles a "naive English tourist led on and then let down by a heartless Latin temptress", and added that he has now turned back to "less glamorous, but more faithful suitors" - a reference to home-grown front-runners.
Little did they know The Sun had front-page news that the chief of these native hopefuls, Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren, had "done an Eriksson" and had an affair with a secretary. But it turned out the liaison was not quite in the Sven class. McClaren said: "I was separated from my wife a year ago and had a three-month affair. It ended in August last year and I went back to my wife in September."
So, despite the disappointing news to the tabloids that McClaren will not be a regular supplier of racy scuttlebutt, he remains, with Alan Curbishley (ex-Charlton), Sam Allardyce (Bolton) and Martin O'Neill (Celtic) very much in the running for the big job.
Meanwhile, Chelsea yesterday claimed their second Premiership title in a row, beating Man United 3-0. It says all you need to know about the People's Game that the winning of the national championship was yesterday no more than an afterthought.Reuse content