Young strikers look to fill Rooney void
Wayne Rooney's sore throat is an inconvenience for himself, Manchester United and Stuart Pearce - but it also offers the caretaker manager the opportunity to find a remedy to a more pressing England ailment.
The absence of Rooney, compounded by the ankle injury which has ruled Aston Villa's Darren Bent out of the rest of the season, shines a harsh spotlight on the striking resources that may or may not be available to England at the start of Euro 2012 this summer.
As England's players gathered at their Hertfordshire headquarters to start serious preparations for Wednesday's Wembley friendly against the Netherlands, the list of orthodox strikers would almost read like a "who's that?" of attacking talent when presented to the world's elite group of defenders.
Pearce made 78 appearances for England between 1987 and 1999. Photo: Getty
Pearce, who will face the media at Wembley on Tuesday and will hopefully reveal the identity of the man who will take the captain's armband from deposed John Terry, now has just Manchester United's Danny Welbeck, Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge and the wild card call-up Fraizer Campbell at his disposal.
Four caps cover them all. No goals. And yet all three will hope for the sort of action against the Dutch that will make them candidates for the squad England's next manager will name to travel to Poland and Ukraine.
Sturridge has been one of the bright spots amid Chelsea's struggles this season, scoring 11 goals in 29 appearances after returning from a successful loan spell at Bolton - where he scored eight times in 12 games after moving to The Reebok in January last year.
He won his first England cap as a second-half subsitute for Theo Walcott in the 1-0 win against Sweden at Wembley in November, a game that turned out to be Capello's last in charge.
Welbeck, who has won three caps as an England substitute, also had a spell on loan at Sunderland last season where he was on target six times in 26 games. He has won the faith of Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford this season - something he has repaid with nine goals in 28 games.
Campbell's selection came out of the blue after a lengthy period on the sidelines with a knee injury. He has only played six times for Sunderland this season, scoring twice, but has impressed Pearce enough to warrant a call-up to his first squad.
Pearce could augment his attacking forces with the use of Manchester United's Ashley Young, who has operated with success in a fluid system under the departed Fabio Capello, while Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is no stranger to the more advanced role.
And yet a look at those names and statistics hints at, if not a complete dearth, a shortage of players capable of filling Rooney's role in his more significant absence, namely the two-match ban at the start of Euro 2012.
Stewart Downing spent an hour in the company of his Liverpool colleagues at Wembley following his man-of-the-match display in the Carling Cup Final win against Cardiff City before joining Gerrard and Glen Johnson on international duty.
As they cut short the celebrations, one of Downing's Liverpool team-mates may just study England's squad and reduced attacking resources to reflect on an opportunity that is currently being missed.
Even as strikers call in sick and injured - and with Stoke's Peter Crouch seemingly finally written off as a going international concern - England find no need to pick the phone and call Andy Carroll, a £35m striker overlooked in favour of, in the case of Sunderland's Campbell, a man still taking his first steps back into club football after almost 18 months out with injury.
Carroll's reviews have been slightly more generous recently but he has not come under consideration, even in what might be regarded as extreme circumstances. It is all a far cry from the promise shown on his debut in defeat against France at Wembley in November 2010.
The lift of the first major medal of his career and Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish's handling at Anfield may yet see Carroll move back into England consideration, but an examination of the evidence suggests time is running out.
So Sturridge, Welbeck and Campbell get their chance on the first night of what might be a beauty parade of players auditioning for their spot in Poland and Ukraine.
Chelsea's Sturridge is a player of rare promise while Welbeck has shown a confidence in personality and assurance playing for Manchester United - setting aside his wayward display at Norwich City - that provided encouragement for Capello before his split with the Football Association.
Campbell is the real surprise package and a call that created most attention in Pearce's first selection. Will he grasp the chance to be a serious contender or join Jay Bothroyd and Kevin Davies in having an England career placed firmly in the "blink and you'll miss it" category?
This is why this is no meaningless friendly, even as England prepare without a permanent manager, a permanent captain and without their best player.
The other main task for Pearce to tackle is naming a captain - and two touted contenders had differing shades of Sunday with their club.
As Gerrard was lifting the Carling Cup following his first appearance for Liverpool at Wembley, Tottenham's Scott Parker was pondering a sending off and a desperate day in the 5-2 north London derby defeat at Arsenal.
The smart money remains on Gerrard, although another contender has crept into view in the shape of Manchester City's mature James Milner, specifically name-checked by Pearce and known well from their time together with England's Under-21s.
Pearce said: "If ever I'm looking for an example in the U-21s of someone who has led unselfishly, it's James. He's got 46 U-21 caps and managed to step up on to the senior stage and made that transition comfortably while having tournament football experience.
"That is the model we are looking for. If you're asking me to put an example of a possible captain, an unselfish captain, that's why I'd use James."
Milner appeared unfazed by this possibility on Monday, suggesting it would be a shared responsibility irrespective of whoever is eventually selected.
He said: "We have got more than enough leaders in the squad and whoever is named as captain, they are not going to be there on their own.
"That's what every successful team needed, more than one leader. One player will wear the armband but you need six, seven, eight leaders to be vocal and lead with actions."
So the visit of the Dutch on Wednesday will present challenges for Pearce, his new captain and a trio of rookie strikers hoping to fill a Rooney-sized hole in England's plans.