Has Three Lions lost its appeal?
As his England squad fell slowly apart, and the list of absentees detained by untimely injury or minor surgical procedure grew, Fabio Capello must have hoped he was simply another victim of bad luck.
Heaven knows, England managers have endured enough of it before crucial games in the past. We all recall the catch in Steve McClaren's voice the day he was informed that a freak injury would keep Wayne Rooney out of the final European Championship qualifier against Croatia. McClaren had terrible misfortune as England manager: his teams were greatly depleted in every major match he played.
So, too, Sven Goran Eriksson, who went to each major tournament without at least one key player, barring the European Championships in 2004, when he lost Rooney after 27 minutes of the quarter-final with Portugal.
So there would be nothing unusual in Capello's best-laid plans disintegrating six days before the game. Yet, nagging away, must be a darker thought: that this is the shape of things to come, that his players are disillusioned with international football and with him, and are no longer going the extra mile to join up with his squad.
Loyalty is a two-way street. On taking the job in 1994, Terry Venables said the England squad should be as hard to get out of as it was to get into. Venables was still capable of making ruthless decisions. He dropped England's captain, David Platt, for the first game of the 1996 European Championships and banished Paul Ince to the international wilderness for almost a year to make him conform to his defensive midfield role – but he had a point.
Since then, every manager has groped for the elusive Club England mentality and found it to be more than a brand name for suits at the Football Association. You want to be a club, behave like a club, and that means consistency, the same faces day in day out, building unity and team spirit.
Capello's first squad after the World Cup seemed unnecessarily retributive. It fitted the public's demand for change and punishment, but it made some senior squad players, on whom Capello would be counting over the next two years, the scapegoats. Now he finds that Robert Green, hung out to dry over one mistake in South Africa, is not available to be third-choice for the match against Bulgaria, because he has scheduled a minor operation. Some would argue that Green failed at the World Cup and is therefore not needed, but his replacement is Scott Carson, whose last appearance for England was equally catastrophic. There are some bigger names missing, too. All have genuine injuries, no doubt, but the sheer number is a worry.
John Terry played with pain throughout the World Cup and still ended up the villain. Now he has withdrawn from this squad over a hamstring strain that did not prevent him lasting 90 minutes for Chelsea on Saturday. Want to bet that he plays the full game against West Ham United when the international break is over, too? Previously, Terry's determination to push through injury has been well-known, so there will be the smallest suspicion he has undergone a change of heart and is no longer doing favours. We cannot know, but there is a reason the best managers protect their players, always.