On Friday Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson confirmed Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s ankle injury is worse than originally reported and may require surgery. Asked if Loftus-Cheek would be fit for the World Cup, Hodgson responded with the unscientific answer ‘I don’t know.’ With the World Cup 4 months away every weekend between now and mid May will be a nervous time for World Cup managers as they wait to hear if one of their possible squad has gone down injured and how much time they’ll need to get fit for selection.
With England picking almost exclusively from the Premier League which has no mid season break the anxiety is pumped up even further. It’s not that you’re more or less likely to get a bad injury because there’s no winter break but minor knocks picked up early season become more serious when there’s no recovery window and additional knocks making the minor injury worse- the obvious example being David Beckham’s infamous 2002 broken metatarsal bone.
Inevitably England and most other nations heading to Russia will arrive minus a player or 2 who was at least under consideration for selection, the key to success as exemplified by Germany in 2014 (who were missing Marco Reus) is having a depth of options across the squad.
World Cup 2002- Gary Neville, Steven Gerrard (& then Danny Murphy)
England had renewed belief in its national side after winning their qualifying group for the 2002 World Cup at the expense of Germany. But star player David Beckham suffered a broken metatarsal playing in the Champions League quarter finals. Beckham was doubtful for the World Cup opener, but things got worse in the semi finals with right back Gary Neville suffering a near identical injury and was immediately ruled out of the trip to Japan.
Meanwhile Steven Gerrard had established himself early in Sven Goran-Eriksson’s side at Number 4 and was set to start in Japan if he could just get through the last meaningless game of Liverpool’s season- he couldn’t! It was a hammer blow to the England manager already sweating on the fitness of Beckham and worse still left-wing Kieron Dyer also went down only minutes after Gerrard and was listed doubtful- Dyer & Beckham both made it to Japan 80% fit but there was no miracle cure for Stevie G.
Who replaced Stevie & Nev?
Danny Mills was coming off the best 2 years of his career with Leeds and was a natural replacement for Neville. Liverpool teammate Danny Murphy was called up to wear the number 4 shirt with Nicky Butt and Owen Hargreaves contesting the holding midfield position in the first 11.
Then hours before the final squad was to be submitted Murphy went down with yet another broken metatarsal and West Ham winger Trevor Sinclair became the 11th hour call up to wear the cursed number 4 jersey.
Were they missed?
Not much- this was a case of finding the right formula with fewer star men. With Gerrard out Butt played his natural holding role allowing Paul Scholes a freer role in attacking midfield, meanwhile Sinclair who came in when Hargreaves suffered an injury provided pace down the left and could get in behind opposing fullbacks.
Meanwhile Mills got off to a rocky start making a weak defensive header that lead to Sweden’s equaliser in the opener, however he did little else wrong over the next 4 games. Butt was England’s best player in the tournament and man of the match in the crucial second match against Argentina. Perhaps when needing a late goal against Brazil Gerrard’s drive from midfield would have been useful as England tired in the midday sun and ultimately England went out in the quarter finals.
But Eriksson learned the wrong lessons in Japan and would crowbar his best midfield players into the lineup in 2004 & 2006- in 2002 he put together a perfectly balanced side that got closed than any England side since 1990.
What might have been rating 3/10
World Cup 2010- David Beckham & Rio Ferdinand
Following a fine qualifying campaign confidence was high as England geared up for South Africa. But things started to slide when David Beckham ruptured his Achilles playing for AC Milan. Beckham was by this stage of his career an impact sub who provided calm authority on the ball in the final third of games.
On arriving in South Africa captain Rio Ferdinand was injured an a training ground mix up with Emile Heskey- the last player you’d expect to do something clumsy! It was a sign of things to come.
Who stood in?
With Beckham out Capello opted for the similar pace merchants Aaron Lennon & Shaun Wright-Phillips and drafted in an out of form Joe Cole to provide creativity. Spurs in-form defender Michael Dawson was called up to replace Ferdinand in the squad with the talented but medically delicate Ledley King taking his place in the starting line-up.
Were they missed?
Yes- neither Lennon nor Wright-Phillips were good enough and Cole barely played a minute with James Milner eventually moved to the right. In defence King managed a mere 45 minutes before going down for the duration and was replaced with Jamie Carragher impersonating a carthorse. England ended up with Plan D- Matthew Upson and Dawson on the bench and was ruthlessly exposed by Germany in the last 16.
It’s hard to imagine Beckham and Ferdinand failing to make this abysmal effort any worse and they might just have provided enough to win England the group and an easier passage in the knock out rounds.
What might have been rating 6/10
Euro 2012- Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry, Gary Cahill, John Ruddy, Jack Wilshere, Kyle Walker
Fabio Capello started to build a new England team after the disaster of South Africa 2010 with Jack Wilshere, Gary Cahill & Kyle Walker the most promising of the new players. But Wilshere broke his ankle in qualifying and Walker suffered a toe injury before Roy Hodgson was parachuted in as Capello’s replacement.
Hodgson named his tournament 23 with Wilshere and Walker already out of the picture when he was hit by a rotten run of luck. Firstly third choice keeper John Ruddy broke a finger in training then Gareth Barry & Frank Lampard suffered pulled muscles and finally Cahill broke his jaw following a push by Dries Martens in England’s final warm up match, Hodgson needed to pick a new partner for John Terry and fill 4 empty seats on the plane to Ukraine.
Who stood in?
Joleon Lescott was coming off his best season and a title win with Manchester City so stepped in to replace Cahill. Scott Parker was now the only realistic option to partner Steven Gerrard in midfield, with Jordan Henderson called up to the bench despite coming off a debut season at Liverpool so underwhelming his play was compared to ‘a dog woken up by his own fart!’ The final places on the bench were used stiffening up the backline with Phil Jagielka, Martin Kelly and Under 21 ‘keeper Jack Butland in the touring party.
Were they missed?
Lescott formed a fine partnership with Terry as England defended well through the tournament, whilst Gerrard excelled as the sole creative force in central midfield and made UEFA’s team of the tournament. However when confronted with top class opposition in the quarter-final England desperately needed passing midfield players to counter the threat of Andrea Pirlo; something Barry, Lampard or Wilshere could have provided. Euro 2012 was ultimately a par score achieved by a threadbare squad, those missing players might just have propelled England to the promised land of the last 4.
What might have been rating 8/10
World Cup 2014- Theo Walcott
Theo Walcott was enjoying his career best form in 2013 and was nailed on to travel to Brazil in 2014. unfortunately the injury picked up against Tottenham followed by an amusing 2-0 gesture to Spurs fans turned out to be a cruciate knee ligament injury ending his season and World Cup dream.
Who stood in?
Raheem Sterling was outstanding in Liverpool’s late surge up the Premier League table and was picked along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain & Adam Lallana as the wingers in Hodgson’s squad.
Was Theo missed?
Sterling was man of the match in England’s opening game loss to Italy but faded whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain pulled up injured in the warm up games and played no part in the tournament. Walcott would have provided a pacey direct option from the bench that might have got an equalizer against Italy but would have done little to solve England’s fatal flaw in defence.
What might have been rating 4/10
Euro 2016- Luke Shaw & Danny Welbeck
Luke Shaw started the 2015/16 season looking a key man for club and country until a horrifying double leg fracture in the Champions League finished his season in September.
Meanwhile Danny Welbeck; a Hodgson favorite missed the first 7 months of the season and showed some promise on his return before almost immediately reinjuring himself for a further year.
Who stood in?
In Shaw’s absence Danny Rose made his England debut in March and secured the England number 3 shirt for the summer. Meanwhile England had three 20 goal strikers in Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane & Jamie Vardy whilst Daniel Sturridge & Marcus Rashford scored 20 between them in half a season each- England would probably have overlooked Welbeck.
Were they missed?
Rose was one of England’s few successes in the tournament whilst Vardy & Sturridge both netted against Wales; England were never likely to miss Welbeck. There were many faults with England’s 2016 campaign but nobody saw the absence of Shaw or Welbeck as a valid excuse for losing to Iceland.
What might have been rating 0/10