Fabio Capello has ignored the advice of Arsene Wenger and decided not to hand Theo Walcott an instant recall to the England fold. The Arsenal talent returned to first-team duties earlier today after a back problem and marked the occasion with a goal in a six-goal romp against Blackburn Rovers.
Wenger claimed he would have no problem if Walcott was then called into Capello's squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers against the Ukraine on 10 October and Belarus at Wembley the following Wednesday. However, Capello has adopted a cautious approach and decided against drafting the 20-year-old into his squad for the first time this season, even though England have already booked their place at next summer's finals in South Africa.
In fact, despite predictions of mass experimentation, Capello has not made many changes at all. The absences of Jermain Defoe and Ben Foster have been put down to injury, a hand in the case of the Tottenham Hotspur man, with Manchester United's goalkeeper ruled out with an unspecified problem.
It leaves Ashley Young as the only player to miss out without an obvious excuse, his despair in contrast to the ecstasy of Gabriel Agbonlahor, who is recalled along with experienced duo David James and Rio Ferdinand, who have both had their injury problems in recent times.
James has missed five successive internationals after deciding to undergo shoulder surgery in the summer. Since then, his career has been thrown into turmoil by the saga that has unfolded at crisis club Portsmouth.
Meanwhile, 30-year-old Ferdinand has been hindered by a succession of calf, thigh and groin injuries over the past nine months, the latest coming during the friendly draw with the Netherlands in August. That was one of only two appearances for the Manchester United talent in England's past nine internationals, the other coming against the Ukraine at Wembley in April.
The introduction of Agbonlahor is the most noteworthy inclusion though. With Defoe ruled out of Capello's plans on Friday, before he turned out as a substitute in Tottenham's draw at Bolton Wanderers 24 hours later, and the timing of Michael Owen's latest injury ensuring he could not be considered, the Aston Villa striker has been catapulted back into the reckoning.
A noteworthy player at U-21 level under Stuart Pearce - a key figure in Capello's coaching team - Agbonlahor started the friendlies in Germany and Spain last season, but seemed to have dropped out of the fold since, especially as Defoe has been in such fine form. However, Capello has stressed more than once that nothing is certain as far as his squad for South Africa 2010 is concerned and Agbonlahor will hope for a chance to catch the eye at some point over the next ten days, although he must first get through tomorrow night's encounter between Aston Villa and Manchester City.
Capello will be at Villa Park, no doubt with his fingers crossed, given that seven members of his 24-man squad will be involved before they meet up on Tuesday.
Defenders: Ashley Cole (Chelsea), John Terry (Chelsea), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Wayne Bridge (Manchester City), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), Wes Brown (Manchester United), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Matthew Upson (West Ham United)
Midfielders: James Milner (Aston Villa), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy), Stephen Gerrard (Liverpool), Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham Hotspur)
Forwards: Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Peter Crouch (Tottenham Hotspur), Carlton Cole (West Ham United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)