Debate over Rooney injury continues to trouble England

Narrow victory over South Africa is overshadowed by Everton manager's indignation over reaction to his teenage striker's knee problem
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The Independent Football

Although England dropped David Beckham off at Luton airport yesterday afternoon, there was no diminution in the excess baggage being carried by Sven Goran Eriksson's party.

As Beckham, his arm ostentatiously wrapped in a plaster cast to protect the scaphoid bone broken in South Africa, departed prior to the team's flight to La Manga for a week's rest, recuperation and training, Wayne Rooney took his place.

The teenager left a Goodison Park still simmering at the apparent questioning of Everton's honesty. David Moyes, the club's manager, said: "I felt that people were disbelieving but that is not how I work. I can only say Wayne had an injury and I felt Everton's integrity was being called into question. We did everything by the rules. We got Wayne checked out then we attended the England medical.

Moyes added: "Wayne's injury may yet keep him out of the Serbia and Montenegro game [a friendly on 3 June]. He is running in straight lines but not kicking a ball, checking or turning. He has more chance of playing against Slovakia [in a European Championship qualifier on 11 June]. Obviously we don't want England to take a risk with him if he is not ready. We were not trying to kid anyone. We want him playing for England. It is an honour for him and Everton. Who in the country would not want England's No 9 playing for their club?"

Mick Rathbone, the Everton physiotherapist, will maintain contact with his national equivalent, Gary Lewin, while England are in Spain. "He's running comfortably," said Rathbone. "We are in full agreement with England regarding the training."

Eriksson sought to play down any dispute. "We agreed last Sunday with Everton that Wayne would come to La Manga," he said. "I think it should be very good for us to have him with us. Hopefully he will be fit to play against Serbia and Montenegro. It would be very good if he plays at least part of the game."

If Rooney is unable to shake off his knee injury, Emile Heskey is likely to again partner Michael Owen in attack. "I think the quality Heskey has is difficult to find in other attackers in England," said Eriksson. "He's very strong and won a lot of balls with his head. I've always had faith in Heskey. He has always been important for us even if he's not the best on the pitch every game.

"On Thursday I think he was good. Heskey playing from the start, or sitting on the bench, will always be important for us. I always prefer to have him. He's had a difficult season and I was happy to see he did very, very well."

Also joining the squad at Luton were those FA Cup finalists who had been given the week off to rest: Wayne Bridge and James Beattie of Southampton, and Arsenal's Ashley Cole. To Eriksson's ire, the Saints pair instead played at Aberdeen. Rupert Lowe, the Southampton chairman, yesterday defended this decision when he said: "I can't understand why people are getting their knickers in a twist over such a minor thing."

Liverpool's Jamie Carragher was also at Luton, having been called up because John Terry's thigh has been slow to heal and there is slight concern about Rio Ferdinand's knee.

"Carragher is coming with us because we are not sure whether Terry will recover," said Eriksson. "If we lose someone else we wanted to make a call-up now. If we wait two or three days it will be too late."

The team will be further supplemented, on their return to England next weekend, by Owen Hargreaves, who has remained with Bayern Munich for the German Cup final. He is a contender to play in central midfield, with Steven Gerrard switched to the right, but may have been overtaken on Thursday by Frank Lampard.

While England's friendly international against South Africa may have been primarily about the big picture and the hosts' quest to stage the 2010 World Cup, many members of the visiting team were looking no further than 11 June.

Foremost among those was Lampard. The Chelsea midfielder identified Beckham's absence from the Slovakia game through suspension as an opportunity to revive his faltering international career.

Four years after making his England debut under Kevin Keegan, Lampard is still unsure of his place in the squad and a long way from a run in the team. He has only started two further matches, is yet to play in a competitive tie and missed out on selection for the World Cup squad.

In Durban Lampard did not come on until the 57th minute but he was clearly determined to make an impression. As he said afterwards: "With David Beckham suspended, there is a place up for grabs." His shot led to Heskey's winning goal and his passing might have created a third.

It was, said Eriksson, a contrast to his last outing, the first half against Australia. "I was very happy today because I know he was disappointed with his performance against Australia," said Eriksson. "It was not easy. He had just 45 minutes and he had to show what he could do but today he did it. He had the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup but has had a very good season."

That season has ended with Chelsea winning a place in the Champions' League, the experience of which can only further bring on Lampard's game. In the meantime, though, Eriksson confirmed he is a contender to play against Slovakia.

The England manager added: "We always knew we would have to plan without Beckham and we never intended him to come to La Manga. We have a lot of time now to think who might play there. I think we have solutions.

"I haven't decided yet, or thought about it. During all the practices we have in Spain we will try things.

"Beckham is one of the best footballers in the world. I hope England is not that poor that we stand or fall by David Beckham. That would be sad. We are talking about a footballer on a level with Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo but Real Madrid have to play without them sometimes."