Kyle Walker faces the heartbreaking prospect of missing the World Cup after groin surgery and will miss the start of the tournament should he make a stunning recovery in the next six weeks.
The England defender was in Gareth Southgate’s plans for a starting place in Qatar but picked up the problem during Manchester City’s derby victory on Sunday. After travelling to London initially for a scan, it was decided an operation on Tuesday was required as the best course of recovery.
Walker, 32, has not been ruled out of Southgate’s squad but his surgery usually takes between six and 11 weeks to recover, with England’s opening game against Iran on Nov 21 meaning he has a slim chance of making the plane to Qatar.
Southgate also has a history of allowing players to prove their fitness after the start of the tournament, with Harry Maguire missing the start of last year’s European Championships before playing his part in reaching the final.
"As players we have to appreciate injuries are part and parcel of the game we love," Walker wrote on Twitter. "My operation on Tuesday was a success and now I can concentrate on my rehab and getting back to full fitness. I will be supporting my team mates every day in any way I can."
Southgate had used Walker in both matches during the last international break, against Italy and Germany, indicating that he was in his plans for a starting place in Qatar next month. He at least has plenty of options, with Reece James in excellent form for Chelsea and able to play as a right-sided centre-back.
Neither Trent Alexander-Arnold or Kieran Trippier played in the last two games but were in the squad and in contention for a place in the 26-man group, with the provisional group likely to be named on Oct 21 before finals squads are submitted on Nov 13.
Ben White also played at right-back for England last season and Bukayo Saka has been deployed as a wing-back. But Walker has been a key player for Southgate, playing in the World Cup four years ago and offering options at centre-back and full-back.
It now remains to be seen whether Southgate has an appetite for taking players to Qatar with little match fitness. Kalvin Phillips has also had surgery, his a shoulder problem, and if he makes the tournament will have hardly played any games for City. City centre-back John Stones was also injured during the international break but his problem is short-term.
Walker suffered the problem in the first half against United as he slid off the sidelines on his flank, then attempted to run off the complaint but was forced off in the 41st minute.
City manager Pep Guardiola confirmed after his team’s Champions League win against Copenhagen that Walker will be sidelined for “weeks”, before Telegraph Sport revealed he has needed an operation.
“It will be for a while, weeks,” said Guardiola. “I know how important the World Cup is for the players.”
Guardiola has cover at City, with Stones able to play full-back although he was also injured during the international break. Nathan Ake can play there, while Joao Cancelo or Sergio Gomez can switch flanks.
Southgate has previously voiced concerns over injuries heading into the unique situation of a mid-season World Cup, and he is set to name standbys in anticipation of players picking up problems. Some players have said the World Cup on the horizon could see them looking to protect themselves from injury.