Emile Heskey is so concerned about his place in the England World Cup squad next summer that he says he will consider leaving Aston Villa in January in order to get first-team football. The striker has started just one Premier League game for Villa this season and knows that Fabio Capello's policy is to leave out players who are not regulars for their club.
So far, Capello has cut Heskey some slack and picked the striker to start all four of England's games this season and with Wayne Rooney last night pulling out of the squad with a calf injury he is likely to be involved on Wednesday against Belarus.
However, at Villa Heskey has found himself third choice for Martin O'Neill behind Gabriel Agbonlahor and John Carew in a 4-5-1 formation that typically only accommodates one striker.
Speaking after England's 1-0 defeat to Ukraine, Heskey said: "I'm happy to be playing and, obviously, not playing at club level is difficult and it's something I will have to look at when I get back and try to address it. I'm never going to give up, it's just another hurdle I have to get over."
Asked whether he would think about leaving Villa in the next transfer window, a club he only joined in January, Heskey said: "That's what I mean. I will have to sit down and think about my next move. I must keep my spirits up and keep going, keep training hard and then just try to address it."
Softly spoken and one of the last figures within the England squad to court controversy, Heskey will not have taken the decision lightly to speak out about his future. There was a hint of friction when he was asked why he thought it was that he was a first choice for Capello and not for O'Neill. "You would have to ask the manager," he said. "I wouldn't know."
Asked whether he could expect to play for England at the next World Cup finals if he was not in the Villa team, Heskey said: "I don't know. I don't know." Heskey joined Villa from Wigan Athletic for £3.5m but his arrival forced O'Neill to switch to a 4-4-2 formation that caused their form to tail off at the end of last season. This season the 31-year-old started in the first game of the season against Wigan but has not started a Premier League game since. He has scored twice since joining the club.
Rooney sustained his injury during Saturday's game. After having it assessed at England's training base in Hertfordshire, he has been released back to Manchester United for treatment ahead of Saturday's game with Bolton. Despite limping off at half-time with a groin strain, Steven Gerrard is remaining with the squad to prepare for the match against Belarus at Wembley on Wednesday. Goalkeeper Ben Foster will also be there, having recovered from the chest injury that kept him out on Saturday.
Capello said that the decision not to abandon Saturday evening's game was the right one, despite the flares which peppered the England goal and came close to hitting David James. "Fifa have to decide something about this," Capello said. "It's no good to keep starting the game again, for the concentration it is difficult. I did not think of taking the players off. Please, no, no, no."
The Football Association will today follow up its initial complaint to the match's Fifa delegate with an official written complaint about "sustained assaults" on England's players. The Fifa delegate has also indicated he will be reporting the flare throwing. There is a precedent for Ukraine being punished: Algeria were fined $20,000 (£12,500) in June this year after flares were thrown onto the pitch in a World Cup qualifier against Egypt. If it happened again, Algeria could be forced to play a game behind closed doors.
The FA is continuing to investigate before deciding on whether to act on suggestions that racist chants were aimed at Carlton Cole, although none of the players have raised the issue with the England management.
David Beckham was another disenchanted individual, forced to watch from the stands as he played no part for England for the second time in three games. This represented the first time in his international career that he failed to make the bench after being selected for a squad.
There is understood to be no problem between player and management, despite suggestions to the contrary. Capello said Beckham had no more right to a substitute's place than any other player. The England manager had insisted on Friday evening that there was no such thing as a "key player" – only a "player" – but Rooney's exhaustive efforts strained his point. "Rooney is an incredible player," Capello said. "Played left, forward, right, and back. I like that. He doesn't like to lose, like me."
Capello suggested that the experience of playing with only 10 men against Ukraine, who now need only to win in Andorra on Wednesday to eliminate Croatia, was useful. But it was an exasperating night in which Capello also remonstrated with the fourth official, Darko Ceferin, about referee Damir Skomina's initial decision to dismiss Rio Ferdinand, seconds before Ceferin persuaded Skomina he was wrong.
"When I saw the red card for Rio, I spoke with the fourth official," said Capello. "'No, no,' I said, 'Speak with the referee.' And the referee decided the red card was for [Rob] Green. The fourth official saw what happened. He confirmed my view. I don't know, because of my position, whether anybody should have been sent off. The problem was the referee's mistake."