With less than seven weeks until the 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil, competition is heating up for a place in England’s 23-man squad.
Some players are guaranteed a seat alongside Roy Hodgson on the plane to Rio, while others have a better relationship with the team’s physiotherapist and will be left behind.
For example, you are more likely to see the following five hopefuls wearing a cast than an England kit this summer.
5. Michael Carrick
There is rarely a time when Michael Carrick is not injured or laid up on the treatment table. The 32-year-old’s career has been plagued by problems, from his time in West Ham’s youth academy right through to the present day at Manchester United.
Carrick has suffered lengthy foot, elbow and thigh layoffs during his playing time, while his most persistent problems are groin and Achilles injuries. The latter can be enough to end a football player’s career in some instances.
His most recent Achilles injury struck in November and forced the midfielder to miss six weeks and withdraw from England’s squad to face Chile and France. It didn’t take long before Carrick was sidelined again, after twisting his ankle during January’s cup defeat to Sunderland.
Even when fit, Carrick has often been overlooked by England managers who prefer the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry. He was actually part of both the 2006 and 2010 World Cup squads but only made it onto the pitch once in total, so it would be fair to say he faces more than one battle to make this year’s team.
4. Andy Carroll
West Ham United’s Andy Carroll may not be England’s current first choice striker, but there’s no denying that he has the potential to become it.
It mainly depends on whether the 25-year-old can avoid another injury though. Premier League fans expected big things from Carroll after his £35 million transfer from boyhood club Newcastle to Liverpool in 2011 made him the most expensive British player in history.
However, Carroll was already carrying a thigh injury and had to wait more than two months to make his debut for the Anfield club. He then suffered knee and hamstring injuries, before moving to West Ham permanently in the summer of 2013, again already injured. This time it was a serious heel problem that took Carroll until January to recover from, after forcing him out of England’s close-season friendlies against Republic of Ireland and Brazil.
Carroll fractured a finger in March and although that injury didn’t keep him sidelined for once, the striker has faced an uphill battle to make an impact in time for Brazil.
3. Jack Rodwell
As an early bloomer in the world of football, Jack Rodwell joined Everton’s academy aged seven and made his first-team debut at 16 years old back in 2008.
The midfielder earned his first senior cap for England in 2011, after impressing at Under-21 level, and was quickly linked with a big money move to then-champions Manchester United. Rodwell eventually joined cross-town rivals Manchester City for £12 million in 2012, but his career has since ground to a complete halt.
He only made 17 appearances during his final season at Everton due to a persistent hamstring problem and it continues to plague him today. Rodwell has endured five separate hamstring injuries while at City and this, combined with groin and knee problems, has resulted in the 23-year-old making just 16 league appearances.
Many fans had expected Rodwell to shine for City and represent England at the World Cup, but those early predictions seem to have all but disappeared given his recent injury woes.
2. Jack Wilshere
Already touted as the next England captain, Jack Wilshere has bags of potential and almost everything going for him. There is just one problem though – his proneness to injury.
The 22-year-old midfielder stormed his way through the Arsenal academy before becoming the club's youngest league debutant at the age of 16 in 2008. However, Wilshere’s early career has been blighted by a string of serious injuries, including a stress fracture in his ankle that ruled him out for 17 months and forced him to miss England’s Euro 2012 campaign.
Wilshere suffered further ankle problems last season and required surgery, which meant he had to sit out of the close-season friendlies for England.
He was sidelined again in March of this year, after suffering a hairline fracture in his foot during England’s 1-0 win over Denmark at Wembley. And despite Arsene Wenger’s public vote of confidence, Wilshere’s chances of making it to Brazil are quickly diminishing.
Either way, someone needs to wrap Wilshere in cotton wool or make him wear Rigger Boots before his career heads in the same direction as Michael Owen’s.
1. Theo Walcott
It is easy to feel sorry for Theo Walcott. The 25-year old stole the limelight at an early age, moving to Arsenal from Southampton in a record transfer for a teenager and becoming England's youngest ever senior player at 17. But those records don’t tell the whole story.
Walcott was handed a shock call up for the 2006 World Cup by Sven-Goran Eriksson despite never starting a Premier League game, but didn’t actually feature during the tournament. And it was even more of a surprise when Walcott was left out of Fabio Capello’s 2010 squad, as the forward was in fantastic form for Arsenal at the time.
This meant the 2014 tournament was finally going to be Walcott’s chance to prove himself on the world’s biggest stage. But after rupturing a knee ligament against Tottenham in January, the forward was ruled out of action for six months and again denied the opportunity to compete at a World Cup.
Walcott will be 29 before he can finally play in the tournament, provided he avoids adding to his extensive list of shoulder, hamstring, ankle, back, abdominal and knee injuries before then, and England actually qualify for Russia 2018, of course.