Fabio Capello has dropped his strongest hint yet that Michael Owen's England career is over by ruling out calling up the striker despite losing Emile Heskey and Carlton Cole to injury and with Peter Crouch nursing a dead leg.
"I have to choose the players to play against the Ukraine [in Wednesday's World Cup qualifier], not against history," Capello said when reminded of Owen's England record. "If Michael Owen can play three or four games, he will be with us. But I have to choose players who have played a lot of games. It's impossible to choose one player who has played only 20 minutes. Why didn't he play the last game?"
Capello knew the answer, of course. The 29-year-old, who is again plagued by injury and having not scored since 10 January, was dropped by Newcastle United and only came on as a substitute against Arsenal. "Yes," Capello said. "I have to choose players in good form. I have chosen the best players who are in a fantastic moment."
Despite saying that Owen (right) would be selected had he had a run of matches – he has featured only once since Capello was appointed – the sense is that the Italian does not believe the striker fits into his plans. Under the system Capello intends to deploy England need a more powerful, stronger central striker who can occupy defenders and hold the ball up allowing Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney the freedom to get forward.
Indeed if Rooney were injured, it is unlikely Owen would feature in that role with Capello likely to switch a fit-again Shaun Wright Phillips inside to play as a "second striker". Although Capello is an arch-pragmatist it does however, appear that, after 89 caps and 40 goals, Owen will struggle to add to that tally.
With Carlton Cole's thigh injury ruling him out on Saturday, Capello called up Darren Bent, the only big, fit striker he has available who he has previously selected. Injury to Gabriel Agbonlahor has frustrated Capello, whose fears that Emile Heskey's hamstring strain would lead to his withdrawal were confirmed yesterday.
A further assessment on Crouch was being made last night although the signs are that he has only suffered bruising and stiffness after a cynical challenge by Slovakia's Martin Skrtel. "I thought he was my mate to be honest, but obviously not," Crouch said. "I went up with him and he kicked out and gave me a dead leg. It was a little bit [out of order]". If Crouch is declared fit it is almost certain he will start Wednesday's match.
If, however, he also has to pull out of the squad then Capello may turn to Bolton Wanderers' Kevin Davies who was, for the first time, included in the pre-selection list by the manager. However, having just turned 32, it would be a remarkable call-up although Capello has few other strikers in the powerful mould he is seeking who are playing regularly.
Capello is likely to stick with the same formation he used against Slovakia – with Rio Ferdinand replacing Matthew Upson – and having decided before the match to substitute both Gerrard and Aaron Lennon it is likely that they will also both start.
Given the lack of pace elsewhere, Lennon could play a crucial role although Capello was also greatly impressed by the contribution – and fitness – of David Beckham. The manager also explained the system he wants England to play. "We play with three midfielders," he said, "two players like Rooney and Gerrard and one forward. These two players are very free to move when we have the ball."Reuse content