Gary Neville, World Cup 2002
England’s first-choice right-back broke a metatarsal in a challenge on Bayer Leverkusen’s Ze Roberto during a Champions League semi-final first leg, 15 days before Sven-Goran Eriksson was due to announce his squad.
His best mate David Beckham had also suffered a similar injury, but unlike Becks, Neville accepted early on that he would not be able to reach an acceptable level of match fitness before the tournament in Japan and South Korea.
Eriksson had numerous other options, including Neville’s brother Phil, Jamie Carragher, Wes Brown, Danny Mills or moving Owen Hargreaves from midfield to right-back. Leeds defender Mills got the nod and, despite a calamitous error in the opening game, played every minute of England’s tournament that was ended by Ronaldinho and Brazil at the quarter-final stage.
Steven Gerrard, World Cup 2002
Gerrard was named in Eriksson’s squad for the Far East but the Liverpool midfielder sustained a groin injury two days later in the Reds’ final Premier League match of the season – a 5-0 win over Ipswich.
The 21-year-old quickly learned that an operation would be required that would rule him out of the tournament.
Gerrard’s Liverpool team-mate Danny Murphy was added to a squad that did not feature Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard. But Murphy later had to pull out after becoming the third England player to break a metatarsal before the tournament. Trevor Sinclair was brought in, while Eriksson sweated on the fitness of three other midfielders – Beckham, Nicky Butt and Kieron Dyer.
David Beckham, World Cup 2010
The England captain travelled to South Africa as chief cheerleader after an Achilles injury denied the AC Milan loanee a place in Fabio Capello’s midfield.
Capello asked his captain to be a part of his travelling party and act as a player liaison – a link between the prickly Italian and his cooped-up troops.
Beckham, though, was bypassed when England’s Brave John Terry attempted a doomed-to-fail mutiny after draws in the opening two matches against the USA and Algeria. The defender, stripped of the captaincy by Capello months earlier, claimed he was “speaking on behalf of the team” when he stunned everyone at a press conference by insisting that the players would tell the manager exactly how they felt about his tactics and approach.
Terry was quickly put back in his box, but England’s campaign never recovered. Still, didn’t Becks look lovely on the bench in his M&S suit?
Rio Ferdinand, World Cup 2010
After Beckham was ruled out, “the curse of the captain”, as Capello referred to it, continued when Ferdinand was injured during the squad’s first training session in Rustenburg.
The Manchester United defender, who had suffered back problems for much of the 2009-10 season, injured his knee ligaments while stretching to tackle Emile Heskey. Surely he should have known by then that he need not have bothered?
England’s campaign continued in similar vein. Michael Dawson was called up as a late replacement, though the Spurs defender was the only centre-half in the squad not to start a match. Capello selected Ledley King, Carragher and finally Matthew Upson alongside Terry as the Three Lions stumbled through their group campaign before being humiliated by Germany.
Wayne Rooney, World Cup 2006
Unlike Theo Walcott, Gareth Barry or Ledley King, the England striker has not yet suffered the heartbreak of missing out on a major tournament. He went to the World Cup in 2006 after breaking his metatarsal, but perhaps he shouldn’t have done.
Rooney was injured on April 29 during United’s 3-0 defeat at Chelsea. His involvement for England in Germany was immediately put into doubt – news that team-mate Gerrard did not take well:
“It would be a disaster for England if we had to go to the World Cup without Wayne. He is idolised around the country and is our main man.
“I think it is impossible to have a successful World Cup without Wayne.”
Eriksson and England bent over backwards for Rooney. The 20-year-old was named in the squad but his inclusion was not confirmed until two days prior to the opening game against Paraguay, after Rooney flew back to Manchester for a scan on his foot. When he returned to Baden-Baden, an FA official declared ‘the big man is back in town’.
The ‘big man’ sat out the opener before playing half an hour in the second game. After two wins, Rooney was given an hour in the final group match against Sweden before featuring again in the round of 16. The pressure told, however, in the quarter-final when the striker was sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho.
Of course, it was not yet clear at the time, but Rooney has always required a series of games before being able to consider himself anything like match fit. When he returned, his contribution was minimal as England once again failed to go beyond the last eight.