Wayne Rooney will be watching from the sidelines when England line up against Spain at Wembley, a decision interim manager Gareth Southgate would have made regardless of fitness.
Rooney sat out training yesterday with a minor injury, alongside left-back Ryan Bertrand, but Southgate had already made up his mind to start without his most decorated player.
For the second time in four games at the helm Southgate has chosen not to select the national captain and record goalscorer, having made the bold call to drop the 31-year-old for last month’s World Cup qualifying draw in Slovenia.
Taking Rooney, pictured right, out of the starting XI is hardly unprecedented in a friendly match but Southgate’s insistence that he is making 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.
What is known is that Jordan Henderson will inherit the armband, as he did in Ljubljana, for the season-ending glamour tie.
After confirming the Manchester United player would be assessed by medical staff prior to the game, Southgate said: “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 tonight, 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 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.
That will continue against a Spain side who appear to outgun their hosts for 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.”