Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney has been released from the England squad after sitting out training on Monday with a knee injury.
Interim manager Gareth Southgate had already said the forward would sit out Tuesday’s friendly with Spain whether he was injured or not.
The 31-year-old was dropped by Southgate for last month’s World Cup qualifying draw with Slovenia but captained the side for the 3-0 win over Scotland on Friday evening.
An FA statement read: “The striker sat out this morning’s session at Tottenham Hotspur’s training ground as a precaution due to a minor knee injury.
“However, with Gareth Southgate already set to rest his captain for the visit of Spain to Wembley Stadium tomorrow night, Rooney has been allowed to return to his club for further assessment.”
Rooney was one of two players to miss training on Monday, along with left-back Ryan Bertrand.
Southgate’s decision to start without the national captain and record goalscorer would hardly have been unprecedented in a friendly match but his insistence that he is taking decisions he deems to be in England’s long-term interests, rather than his own prospects of being named permanent manager, cannot be coincidental.
Whether he no longer sees Rooney as an essential first-team pick, or simply wants the team to get used to playing without a man who has already telegraphed his retirement in 2018, is unclear.
Jordan Henderson will inherit the armband, as he did in Ljubljana, for the season-ending glamour tie.
Southgate said earlier on Monday: “I wouldn’t start Wayne in this game anyway, so we’ll decide which route to go.
“At times too much of that responsibility has laid with Wayne and we need to share that. There are leaders already and other potential leaders who I think can step forward.
“And once you have a team full of those players then we’ll have a lot of success.”
While Southgate’s agreed tenure expires at full-time on Tuesday, the odds are shortening on him staying on.
The team’s comfortable standing in World Cup qualifying, allied to the feelgood factor of Friday’s 3-0 win over old rivals Scotland, have given him a firm claim to the job.
He steadfastly refuses to discuss his own candidacy but admits that his mindset since picking up the baton from Sam Allardyce has been to plan for the future.
Rather than shore up his position with safe decisions he has shown flashes of courage – not least in his treatment of Rooney but also in the progressive style he attempted to impose on the British derby.
And that will continue against a Spain side who appear to outgun their hosts for sheer quality.
“We’ve got to make the correct decisions, not the convenient decisions,” he said. “To make what we believe are the right decisions for the right reasons.
“It would have been easy to say (of Scotland), ‘Okay, we have to win this match…we’ll go solid, soak up pressure, hit teams on the break and play all our experienced players’.
“Or, do we do what we did…try to build from the back, play with some risks, involve some younger players who we think are going to be the future, work longer term.
“My view of the game is you manage every game like you’re going to be there forever and make decisions for the long term.
“Tomorrow what’s the plan? Go selfish, shut up shop, try to eke out a 1-0 or do we say ‘no lads, let’s play with belief, go with what we think is the right way to play’.
“We’ll get some of those things wrong but we’ll get a lot right. We have to think further forward.”
Admirable words, no doubt, and the kind of sentiment that will prick the ears of those at the Football Association who will determine his fate.
So too will Southgate’s apparent blessing for them to look elsewhere before determining his fate.
“I think it’s right to for everyone to reflect,” he added. “If you’re appointing a manager at any football club in my opinion you should take time to see what fits with your philosophy of what you want to do.
“You should speak to all the people you want to speak to because who knows, someone might emerge who you don’t know so much about.”
But on-field matters will always be the most persuasive currency in football and improvements will be needed in key areas to match Spain
In defence John Stones commands Southgate’s complete faith, despite a rocky evening against the Scots.
One timely block from Robert Snodgrass was not quite enough to outweigh some sloppy moments on the ball as he tried to embody Southgate’s forward-thinking approach.
Yet there is no hint that patience is running out, at least as far as the former Middlesbrough boss is concerned.
“I remember playing Germany in Euro 96, everyone was talking about Matthias Sammer and saying ‘where’s our Sammer?’ It didn’t prove to be me, unfortunately,” he noted drily.
“We had a dabble with Rio (Ferdinand) but did we allow Rio to be quite as good as he might have been or did we inhibit his progress at times?
“John Stones is that type of defender.
“In my mind you have to encourage those kinds of players to play. Otherwise we’ll keep watching the Gerard Piques and saying ‘why can’t be get those players in’.
“If we don’t allow our players to express themselves tomorrow then we’ll never progress to be a top team.”