Roy Hodgson intends to hold further talks with Sir Alex Ferguson to discuss the intricacies of Rio Ferdinand's personal fitness regime before determining whether the veteran Manchester United centre-half still has a future in the England team.
The national side's preparations for the double-header against San Marino and, most critically, Montenegro, were disrupted by Ferdinand's withdrawal from the squad, the 34-year-old citing the complexities of his "pre-planned fitness programme" aimed at combatting a long-standing back problem. His subsequent decision to fly to Doha to work first at the Aspire academy and then as a pundit for al-Jazeera on the San Marino fixture enraged England's travelling support who, in his absence, aimed abuse at a player capped 81 times.
Ferdinand had spoken face-to-face with Hodgson on the eve of the squad's arrival at St George's Park last week with the player insistent he still wished to be considered for future selection. The England manager also lost Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill from his first-choice party but, speaking after Tuesday's 1-1 draw in Podgorica, appeared exasperated by the issue, even if he did admit further talks with United would follow.
"First of all, I would say the two centre-backs did very well," he said. "[Chris] Smalling was excellent and Joleon Lescott did a very good job as well. I would have thought if there were two players who deserve to come out of this game with credit and without any negativity it's the two centre-backs.
"So, therefore, there's no interest for me discussing someone who is not here and, furthermore, if [Ferdinand] is going to play in future games there will have to be further discussions, not least of all in relation to his fitness programme and his club. I have absolutely nothing to add from when it first came up and, certainly today, I think it would be extremely unfair to suggest it was the performance of Smalling and Lescott which has culminated in us drawing the game rather than winning the game."
The England manager has privately acknowledged he was wrong to omit Lescott from his original 26-man squad on the basis that he has played so little football for Manchester City, particularly since the turn of the year. Indeed, the defender – a mainstay of City's Premier League title success last term and an ever-present at last summer's European Championship – has played only 17 minutes fewer than Smalling at club level since the turn of the year, even if he has featured for onlytwo minutes in the Premier League for City in the past six weeks.
That mistake will not be repeated, even if Lescott has conceded he must address his own future at club level at the end of the season to remain in proper contention for England selection if they reach the 2014 World Cup. Smalling, too, is not yet considered first-choice at Manchester United but has now impressed at centre-back in England's last three internationals.
The youngster is hopeful of some involvement in his club side's games at Sunderland, where they were pipped for the title last May, and Chelsea over the Easter weekend.
"I hope to make an impact," said Smalling. "We've got two big games, in the league and the FA Cup, which could decide a lot and I hope to play in at least one of them. I wasn't involved at Sunderland last season (when United won 1-0 only for City to score in stoppage time at the Etihad to win the title on goal difference) but what happened has motivated us all season. We've looked back and don't want to experience that feeling again, which has shown in the way we've played. It was horrible. We went into that game thinking we didn't have a chance, only then to come so close - which actually made it worse."