Theo Walcott watched England against Holland from the bench, nursing a bit of a side strain. Nothing serious mind, but the Barclays Premier League season has yet to start and he is managing a niggle.
The next ten months are going to be agonising and, if Fabio Capello needed a reminder, then it was sat on a canteen-style seat in the shape of Arsenal’s delicate speed merchant, a few yards to his right.
Capello knows his strongest team but will be painfully aware it includes fragile bodies like John Terry, Emile Heskey, Steven Gerrard and Walcott.
The No 1 goalkeeper, David James, is 39 and is still recovering from surgery to his knee and shoulder and David Beckham will be 35.
He needs them all to survive the gruelling English season in one piece. Easier said than done, as Sven Goran Eriksson will confirm. Eriksson went to two World Cups without key players and others badly out of shape.
Capello will wince each time he sees Terry crashing into a lion-hearted tackle or holds his breath as Heskey slowly hauls himself from the turf like a geriatric after one of his regular tumbles.
Heskey was a doubtful starter against the Dutch because of a sore achilles tendon. Like Terry, he has ongoing issues with his back, not to mention the insecurities which can play on the minds of elite players when they suspect they are not operating at their best. No-one has played a competitive game yet.
Capello will shudder when the phone rings on a Saturday evening, fearing the physio of doom because, despite Terry’s confident pre-match talk of taking on the world in South Africa and Jermain Defoe’s second-half efforts, this squad starts to look a little thin when the surface is scratched.
Ashley Young was unable to seize his chance last night. And the defensive vulnerability exposed by Holland’s fluent front four will alarm Capello, as will the failure of his team to keep possession.
The normally reliable central defensive pair of Terry and Rio Ferdinand wobbled in front of Rob Green, who was unable to produce the sort of heroic performance required to ease the doubts which linger about the goalkeeping position.
Beckham, in for Walcott, worked typically hard on the right and did little wrong before he was replaced at half time by Shaun Wright-Phillips. He still crosses a good ball
but he cannot be counted upon for the inspiration he once delivered.
How the England manager could do with a youngster exploding from the pack of teens which includes Jack Wilshere, Daniel Sturridge, Jack Rodwell and Kieran Gibbs. In
the same way Walcott did nearly a year ago with a hat-trick in Zagreb.
In Amsterdam, Walcott had started a training session in the stadium on Tuesday evening, only to pull out. After a chat with the medical team and a tentative jog, he was back in the dressing room.He took his place among the substitutes but was not considered fit enough to start.
Were it not for the obvious repercussions on his own job, Arsene Wenger might well be wearing a smug smile. Wenger warned anyone willing to listen of the folly of Walcott’s participation in the European U21 Championships in Sweden in June.
He played in all five games for Stuart Pearce’s team and led the line, alone up front, in the final on June 29, although he barely saw the ball in a 4-0 defeat to Germany.
Since then, Walcott has played only 45 minutes, the second half of a friendly against Valencia last weekend.
Wenger actually hoped England’s friendly in Holland might sharpen him up for Arsenal’s opening game of the Barclays Premier League season at Everton on Saturday. The Arsenal boss wanted his winger to play in the Amsterdam ArenA but
Walcott is now very unlikely to start at Goodison Park.
Even if his side problem settles quickly, he is behind in his preparation for a season which could stretch as far as July 11, if England reach the World Cup final in Johannesburg.
He is in a race to be fully fit for the Champions League play-off at Celtic on Tuesday as Arsenal start their season with a blitz of games.
The Gunners have 11 games in the first seven weeks of the season, England have three.
Even if Walcott had been raring to go last night, the chances are he would be out on his feet by the end of September and craving a bit of a breather.
Prepare for the debate about a winter break, the like of which erupts in a World Cup year, usually after England have failed in the finals.
But it will be no good to Capello. In the coming months he will be thrown problems the like of which no amount of league titles and European Cups can prepare you for.
What if he loses Wayne Rooney
as Eriksson did for the opening games in Germany 2006? What if he loses one of his central defenders? Or Heskey?
As Capello stood on the touchline in his England suit, with three lions proudly on his chest, he was a coach about to venture into the unknown. Fingers crossed.