Euro 2012: England's problems mount as Scott Parker struggles for fitness and Frank Lampard is ruled out
England’s central midfield options weakened considerably when Frank Lampard was ruled out of Euro 2012 amid continued concerns within the England camp about Scott Parker’s sharpness.
Lampard was replaced by Jordan Henderson. England will be hoping that Parker regains his mobility quickly after an Achilles problem.
Parker struggled with a sore Achilles at Spurs during the latter part of the season, eventually missing the final four games. He had an injection to accelerate his mobility, which has worked, but there remains a concern among England staff that Parker is not back to the player he was earlier in the season.
Parker starts alongside Steven Gerrard against Belgium at Wembley on Saturday, a far more demanding friendly test than the 55 minutes he managed against Norway last Saturday.
England staff could see that Parker lacked his trademark bustling energy on his return to action in Olso, particularly that familiar way he can turn so sharply and also that burst of pace in tracking back to make interceptions. Roy Hodgson, the manager, had planned to take Parker off at half-time in the Ullevaal but decided to give him some more minutes in an attempt to sharpen him up.
The Football Association will be hoping Parker suffers no reaction to the Achilles condition, and that he will continue to gain in fitness and dynamism, but staff know it will be difficult to get the midfielder replicating his early-season brio in time for England’s opener against France in Donetsk on June 11. On Tuesday, Parker said he felt OK against Norway and did not anticipate any problems.
Parker is a gutsy competitor, who will play hard through any discomfort, but it is clearly not ideal that he is far from full sharpness 10 days before England’s opening test. Such is the quality of Laurent Blanc’s midfield, with players such as Yohan Cabaye and Samir Nasri, that England could be as outmanoeuvred as they were against France at Wembley two years ago.
Henderson now provides cover, although Hodgson would turn first to James Milner or Phil Jones in the centre. Arsenal’s exciting teenager, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, is also a central option.
Hodgson is being given a crash course in the perils that stalk England managers, notably the jinx of the untimely injury on the eve of tournaments. Even if Parker regains sharpness, England have been hit badly in the centre. They have lost Gareth Barry to an abdominal strain and now Lampard, who tweaked a thigh muscle chasing a loose ball in training at London Colney on Wednesday.
At 33, and with Hodgson talking of focusing on younger players such as Jack Wilshere, Jack Rodwell and Tom Cleverley, Lampard’s 90-cap career might have come to an end, although anyone who knows the determined midfielder will understand he does not give up the fight easily.
He will be missed in Poland and Ukraine for his experience, for his popularity around the camp and his new strength of playing deeper while also rolling back the years and powering upfield.
England are short enough of true quality anyway to make light of losing a player who has just helped his side win the Champions League.
“It’s a huge blow for the team, especially coming after the loss of another senior player in Gareth Barry,’’ Hodgson said.
“The fact that the doctor cannot guarantee Frank could take part in any of the group matches means we have to replace him in the central midfield area. Apart from it being a huge blow to me and the team, I’m especially disappointed for Frank himself. He has been in very good form and was looking forward to the tournament.
“He made a huge contribution towards us qualifying for the Euros so it is cruel to be forced out through injury just before the tournament.”
Hodgson turned to Henderson instead of Michael Carrick as the Manchester United midfielder had indicated he was not prepared to be a bit-part player. Yet, he could have been amenable to a call with so many central midfielders falling lame and with doubts over Parker.
Henderson gets the nod because he willingly agreed to be on standby, even after Tuesday’s noon deadline for squad-lists to be sent to Uefa.
He stayed close to England’s Watford base on Thursday, having boots and passport with him, waiting for the call that eventually came. England still need the nod from Uefa’s medical staff to include Henderson but that should be a formality as Lampard suffered his injury after Tuesday’s deadline.