Friday, May 7, 2010

Carragher in shock England call-up

Fabio Capello intends to select Jamie Carragher in England's provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup after the Liverpool defender indicated a willingness to come out of international retirement for the tournament in South Africa.

Carragher made himself unavailable for selection after the friendly against Brazil in the summer of 2007 having grown frustrated at a perceived lack of opportunities in his favoured centre-half role. Capello's predecessor, Steve McClaren, failed to persuade him to change his mind and the defender also politely declined when the current manager revisited the issue on his appointment over two years ago.

The defender, capped 34 times, had preferred to concentrate on club commitments and has been a consistently fine performer for Liverpool over the last decade. Yet Capello and England's general manager, Franco Baldini, who are braced to be without their first-choice defensive midfielder, Gareth Barry, at the finals because of an ankle injury, became aware of a shift in Carragher's stance and have seen an opportunity to integrate more experience into their squad.

The 32-year-old has been sounded out over a possible return and, although the situation is still delicate, Capello is intent upon picking him for his initial 30-man party, to be named on Tuesday, ahead of the pre-tournament training camp in Austria. Carragher's worth as a seasoned centre-half is clear and is more significant because Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King, who will also be in the squad, have struggled with injuries.

Ferdinand has started only 11 Premier League games all season having suffered from back and groin complaints but could begin Manchester United's game tomorrow against Stoke City. King, long since restricted by chronic knee problems, has played only four times since the end of February but impressed Capello by excelling twice in five days against Bolton and, on Wednesday night, at Manchester City.

John Terry and Matthew Upson will retain their places, though there is a certain irony in the appeal of Carragher's versatility given his preference for playing at centre-half. He has been employed at full-back and in defensive midfield for England in the past and, in the likely absence of Wes Brown and Joleon Lescott with foot and hamstring injuries respectively, he could potentially be utilised in either wide defensive role yet again.

Whether he features at Hull tomorrow remains to be seen because he is troubled by a slight ankle injury. His international return would still represent an eye-catching selection, with the England management team seeking to bolster a squad disrupted by a recent spate of injuries.

Michael Dawson and Phil Jagielka have impressed in recent weeks, though it is uncertain whether either has done enough to get into the squad that will play friendlies against Mexico and Japan this month before being slimmed down to 23.

Capello was initially due to attend Arsenal's game against Fulham on Sunday but will now be at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea hope to win the Premier League title for the first time in four years. The head coach has dispatched Baldini to Upton Park to scrutinise the credentials of West Ham's Scott Parker given the potential absence of Barry for the finals.

The Manchester City midfielder damaged ankle ligaments during Wednesday's defeat to Tottenham and his club manager, Roberto Mancini, fears Barry could be absent for up to a month. "I'm very sorry for Gareth," said Mancini. "He is a fantastic guy and a fantastic player. I hope he can play in the World Cup, but I think that's a decision for the England medical staff and Fabio Capello."

The loss of a player who has been a consistent selection under successive England managers would represent a considerable blow to England's chances in South Africa and, aside from Parker, could yet earn Michael Carrick or the Spurs midfielder Tom Huddlestone, capped against Brazil last November, inclusion in the squad

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