As the dust settles on Terrygate and Ashley Cole sits with his ankle in plaster, Fabio Capello will be praying that the next 110 days are injury and controversy free for his first choice England squad.
Cole should be fit by May and Terry will hopefully have his private life in check, but the one thing Capello will find more frustrating than anything is Owen Hargreaves’s sustained period on the sidelines.
With the exception of Wayne Rooney, no one is more valuable to the national side in a World Cup year.
His gritty energy and big-game temperament have marked him out as a world-class defensive midfielder who provides England’s more offensively-minded midfielders the peace of mind to roam.
In England’s tepid World Cup campaign of 2006, it was Hargreaves who was widely regarded as England’s only consistently impressive player, culminating in a monumental performance against Portugal.
Alex Ferguson certainly didn’t spend a year and almost £20million to secure his signature for nothing. Yet, unlike Ferguson, Capello has seldom had the pleasure of being able to name Hargreaves in one of his squads so it can be argued that he cannot miss a player he’s barely used.
Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick however, as good and experienced as they are, fall short of the standard Hargreaves has set in an England shirt. A shirt he has only worn three times as a United player. His versatility and often under-appreciated steely efficiency from set pieces makes it no surprise that he spent his formative years in Germany.
Hopes raised by Hargreaves’s own indications that he may be close to a return were dashed recently when Ferguson omitted him from his Champions League squad, citing a lack of fitness and confidence.
Should Hargreaves return to the Old Trafford fold in time for the last few games of the season, then perhaps the impossible is possible. But this is surely wishful thinking.
With South Africa looming, Fabio Capello will not be concerned with his former captain’s off-field indiscretions, but lamenting Hargreaves’s absence as if it were Rooney’s. Well, almost.