No disrespect to Joleon Lescott and Matthew Upson who played against Brazil a couple of weeks ago, but when I look at the English centre-backs who play in the Premier League, two other players come to mind before them. Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King were for me the two prime candidates to replace either John Terry or Rio Ferdinand when they were injured. Both commanding, experienced centre-backs, who would command a flight to South Africa in different circumstances.
Circumstances do not however favour either of them; both have suffered a succession of serious injuries which have hampered their entire careers. King’s knee has been the subject of much debate over the previous few years; there have been question marks over his ability to play at the highest level, questions that have led to rumours that he might even quit the game before he has even got into his prime as a defender. These days he rarely trains, doctors have advised Harry Redknapp that he can only play one game a week, for after every match his knee inflames to nearly twice its normal size. It is a testament to King’s commitment to both Spurs and football in general that he continues to play in the Premier League. Redknapp has expressed on many occasions his amazement at King’s ability to not train all week, and manage to not only be fit and ready for a game at the weekend but also perform to a very high standard at the highest level of the game.
Despite the fact he plays so intermittently, his performances have impressed England manager Fabio Capello enough to call him up to a recent England squad for the game against Slovakia back in March. Redknapp expressed clearly his dissatisfaction with the decision for King’s condition would leave him unfit for the majority of the World Cup if he was fit. The question Capello would have to ask himself about King is whether it would be worth it to pick him in a squad, knowing full well his game time would be limited. If Terry or Ferdinand get injured early in the World Cup, King could not slot in for the rest of the matches, but if there is a suspension or a minor injury, his experience would be ideal as a replacement for one crucial match in the World Cup.
In the case of Jonathan Woodgate, the issue is slightly different. His injury problems began after his move to Newcastle and continued during his time at Real Madrid. On his return to England, he has played more regularly but has been hampered by many niggling injuries which have prevented him getting a long run in the team at either Middlesbrough or Spurs. Capello has on many occasions expressed the desire that all players in his World Cup squad had to be fully fit, a concern that Woodgate is all too aware of:
“I’ve got no chance. I haven’t given up. But I don’t train all the time, as well, and he (Capello) likes people who train every day, so, we’ll see what happens.”
The game against Wigan was only his second 90 minutes of the season, a fact which will not go unnoticed by Capello. Woodgate would have to stay fit for the rest of the season if he wants to be on that plane, a challenge which will be difficult to overcome considering his recent injury record. It would however give Capello another option in the backline which he would be delighted to have. The England manager knows the task ahead of him at the World Cup and he will need all the players he can get who are of top quality and experience. If he doesn’t take them when they are both fit, he may live to regret his decision if other back-up players such as Lescott and Upson don’t perform as well as they need to, if he does take them and they’re both injured for the majority of the tournament, he would have significantly reduced his options at the back during crucial World Cup matches. It is a dilemma for Capello but with his stature and experience, I know he will make the correct decision.