Bolter: Bailey Wright, front, in action for Preston North End. Photo: Getty Images
The World Cup dreams of Trent Sainsbury are all but over while fellow defender Bailey Wright’s Brazil aspirations could hinge on the outcome of his English club’s push for promotion.
Sainsbury was considered a good bet to make the final 23-man squad chosen by Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou but the ongoing problems of a knee injury – suffered when he fell on a sprinkler head late in his debut for Dutch club PEC Zwolle in February – have curtailed his chances. What seemed to be a month-long injury turned into a nightmare for Sainsbury, who hasn’t kicked a ball for his new club since.
His race against time to be fit for the Dutch Cup final ended in disappointment as he watched his teammates stun Ajax Amsterdam 5-1 last month.
Sainsbury was still very much in Postecoglou’s thinking until recently, when it became clear the former Central Coast stopper would not be able to fully participate in the 30-man training camp in Gosford next week. The squad for that camp will be unveiled at 11am on Wednesday.
He is the latest in a growing list of heartbreak stories, which already includes Robbie Kruse and Rhys Williams, in addition to the slew of veterans who have retired from international football or been sidelined by Postecoglou.
Of all the players set to win selection in the 30-man squad, none loom as a bigger bolter than Wright, who is understood by Fairfax Media to have already been given the nod for selection. But the 21-year-old is in the middle of an intense juggling act, with his club side Preston North End entangled in a tense League One play-off series for promotion to England's second-tier Championship.
However, on the morning the Australian squad is due to assemble on the Central Coast, Wright will still be deep in preparations for the play-off semi-final second leg against Rotherham at the New York Stadium on Friday morning (Sydney time).
The tie is evenly poised after the first leg at Deepdale, where the two sides – who finished fourth and fifth on the ladder – were locked at 1-1 after 90 minutes.
Wright has been praised for his performances this season, not to mention interest from clubs in higher divisions.
If Preston win the tie, the play-off final (against Leyton Orient or Peterborough United) won’t take place until May 25, well after the Gosford training camp and just a day before the Socceroos’ farewell match in Sydney against South Africa.
Having played his entire professional career with Preston, Wright is unlikely to abandon them until their run is over.
Instead, he may have to hope Postecoglou is sufficiently impressed with his performances in the play-offs to earn a spot in the final 23-man squad.
However, if Preston lose in the second leg against Rotherham, Wright could be in camp in time for the second day of training. The situation with Sainsbury and the uncertainly over Wright have given Adelaide’s versatile defender Osama Malik a timely opportunity.
Malik is one of several players to have taken part in a secretive pre-camp tune-up in Adelaide, being run by Socceroos assistant coach Aurelio Vidmar.
It is widely thought the final camp will have a frenetic intensity, akin to the brutal sessions overseen by Guus Hiddink in the lead-up to the 2006 World Cup.
Some of the surprise names who will make the 30-man squad include Swindon’s Massimo Luongo and Newcastle Jets pair Mark Birighitti and Josh Brillante.
Adelaide left-back Michael Zullo is understood to have been overlooked, likewise Liverpool’s reserve goalkeeper Brad Jones.
Alan McCall, once of North Queensland Fury, and former Wellington football operations manager Mal Impiombato have been brought in to replace the outgoing strength and conditioning coach, Andrew Young.
While Young was only recently appointed by Postecoglou after stints with Fulham and the Adelaide Crows, he is still on a one-year good behaviour bond for an assault at an Adelaide hotel in December 2012. It is not known if this is related to his decision to step aside from the national team.