England pray for Gareth Barry ankle recovery
Fabio Capello may have to use the inexperienced Tom Huddlestone or Scott Parker at the World Cup
England coach Fabio Capello is still holding out hope that Gareth Barry will make the plane for South Africa. The Manchester City midfielder, who has started 19 of Capello's 23 games in charge of England, injured his ankle ligaments in a Premier League clash with Tottenham on May 5 and hasn't kicked a ball in anger since.
And it's a race against time for the 29-year-old to prove his fitness. Barry spent yesterday in London undergoing a series of tests with the England medical staff and the prognosis was encouraging: he'll return to Manchester to continue rehabilitation - including oxygen-tank treatment and running in a swimming pool - before further tests and a scan at the weekend when a final decision must be made.
Capello has to name his final 23-man squad on June 1 and he's giving Barry every chance of making the cut before England fly out to prepare for their game against the USA on June 12.
Capello's determination to include Barry is not surprising given what happened on Monday night at Wembley. Though England beat Mexico in their penultimate friendly before the World Cup, Michael Carrick was anonymous in filling Barry's holding role in midfield and James Milner's performance suffered as a result.
But what alternatives does Capello have if Barry fails to find his fitness? Spurs' Tom Huddlestone – who got a brief run against Mexico – and Scott Parker of West Ham could play in that position but both lack England experience, which was why Capello put in a call to Paul Scholes earlier in the month asking him to come out of international retirement.
The Manchester United veteran's refusal to do so has only increased Capello's reliance on Barry recovering in time. "Barry always played with me," said Capello, adding: "He is one of the really important players."
And Capello remains staunch in his belief that it would be detrimental to England's chances of success in South Africa if he paired Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in midfield.
"You always need a holding player in front of the back four," he explained. "This position is really important. I think Steven is really dangerous when he arrives close to the box. I prefer this player to be close to the box. If he has to play like all the other players he is good but he is too far from the box."