BOSS Gareth Southgate has rightly had a pop at England for whisking David Wheater off from England Under-21 action Villa Park to bundle him on pointless night flight to Minsk - just to watch the seniors play Belarus live.
With an already patched up back line Boro need the strongest defence possible against Chelsea - yet the key man in that unit was sent scurrying across the continent on the milk train to get a taste of the senior set-up when he should have been recharging his batteries at home. If he needed to rub shoulders with the big boys why couldn't he have done that before the game against Borat's boys? Had he been needed on the bench there may have been a case. But just to rack up his air miles? Crazy.
Wheater played the full 90 minutes of England's second leg against Wales then whizzed off to Birmingham Airport with Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart although Aston Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor, also called up, had to decline his place in the jump seat after suffering a tweaked anterior diplomatic muscle. As it happen neither of the duo had any role on Wednesday and while Wheats may now have a snazzy stamp in his passport Wheats would have been far better off catching zeds, clearing the cobwebs with a brisk walk to the Mungle Jungle and watching the game on the box from his settee.
Stewart Downing was also a passenger in the party but didn't play on Tuesday as the Redcar Rock did (which must have been frustrating but not gruelling) and didn't have to rush through the departures gate and fly overnight. Instead he had plenty of downtime in the hotel on Tuesday and Wednesday. He didn't even have to deal with the demoralising effects of booing.
At Boro's pre-match presser an angry Southgate - well, a bit annoyed, well his dander was certainly rising - said of Wheater situation: "I have to be very careful about my reaction. I don't want to detract from what was a marvellous England performance. I am absolutely delighted for David on a personal basis because I know how much it means to a young player to be called into the full squad.
"But as manager of Middlesbrough, I am in a situation where I am trying to prepare for a Premier League game so I am not too impressed when one of my players is asked to take a flight to Belarus to watch the senior squad play, immediately after taking part in an Under-21 match."
This is the second time that Wheater has racked up the air miles to be be involved with a full England squad and not seen any action. Last time was a lengthy trip to Trinadad and Tobago for the summer friendly in which he was one of only three players in the party not to get any pitch time. Although to be fair, he got a bit of sun on his back at a time when it was lashing down in Teesside.
Southgate said: "It's great for David, but it's an example of a circumstances where we as a club have to defend ourselves. As Middlesbrough manager I feel that we have to fight our own corner. We are playing Chelsea at 12.45pm on Saturday and it's important to galvanise everything we can against one of the big boys.
"It's difficult to reason how if you have been playing in two games for the under-21s and you have done your job, how you can then be asked to watch the first team. You are either in one squad or you are in the other, for me. I have to be very careful in what I do.
Then mysteriously, and possibly mindful of the Boronoid fear of a points deduction for a disrepute charge, he started a guessing game by glancing furtively side to side and adding. "I have been advised by a very experienced Premier League manager not to say too much."
"But then I am looking at one of my players who would have no sleep on Tuesday night and who was dropped off at Luton Airport at 3am this morning," he went on. "I have told him and Stewart Downing to go home and get as much rest as they possibly can today, and then report tomorrow."
Southgate is currently short of centre-backs as the Alpine hardman Emanuel Pogatetz is banned while Berlin Wall Robert Huth has developed cement fatigue and is ruled out for a month with scaffolding up while remedial work is done underpinning an ankle injury so the last thing we need is the only fit first choice defender anything less than raring to go. Thanks for that Team England.
Of course the situation is fraught with politics, as discussed by poster John Powls on the Gazette Boro Banter sister site. Southgate could hardly refuse when it was put to him that Wheats should travel while player was naturally happy as Larry to be asked and could hardly get through check-in quickly enough. If nothing else it shows Wheater he is still very much on Capello's radar. Besides, players are young and daft and fit as a lop and want to play every single game possible and they are not charged like the manager with juggling the team's resources to the best effect and putting collective interests ahead of individual egos, ambitions or short term urges.
Bernie Slaven argued in today's Gazette that Wheater would have flown there and back feeling ten feet tall and that the buzz of being considered important enough for the shuttle run would out-weigh any prospect of fatigue. We must hope so. Given the opposition we will need him fully fuelled and ready to put in a display of international class.
But being ten feet tall carries risk when flying, even in club class. We should think ourselves lucky it wasn't Robert Huth answering a later international call up or he would have come back suffering deep vein thrombosis or would have tripped getting his case off the carousel.
Poor Huth. He is fast shaping up as one of Boro's most injury prone players ever - and that is against some stiff competition.
Since arriving at Boro in a £6m fail-to-beat-the-deadline-but-it-is-linked-to-an-Arsenal/Chelsea-deal move in August 2006 he has played just 36 games. There is no doubt that when fit and at his best he is an international quality defender and a shoe-in for Boro and Germany but he is 24 now and in his seven year career to date has played not yet played a century of club games - he is on 98 while in contrast Stewie Downing will play his 200th Boro game against Chelsea - and without going through the big book in Uncle Eric's special locked drawer I couldn't tell you what his record of consecutive games would be, although I'd be very surprised if it was in double figures.
In the summer Huth worked very hard to put his glass foot problems behind him and Boro backed him all the way. A bio-mechanical fitness specialist was brought in to work with him, complex computer virtual models were constructed of his posture, his frame and his running action in a bid to crack exactly why he was so susceptible to foot injuries. He was given an individually tailored training programme to strengthen and develop specific muscle groups and alter the weight distribution and stress he was putting on an area of weakness that has been football's equivalent of the San Andreas Fault - and that had succeeded. Huth was fully fit, playing well - and regularly - and his foot was holding up. Then he turned an ankle.
Sell him, people scream hysterically like jittery stockbrokers looking to short Huth futures. But who too? Who would buy him with his current record? (Incidentally the answer, as it is to most of football's 'who would be crazy enough to do that' questions, is probably Newcastle). And, besides, when he is fit, isn't he the best we have got? He is imposing, unflustered, cultured, has an excellent sense of positioning, good distribution, is strong in the tackle and is excellent in the air in both boxes. When he is playing he is brilliant. If only we could get 30 games a season out of him!
Alas, that seems a pipedream. Instead he has joined a doomed list of Boro permacrocks who spent as much time on the treatment table as on the pitch; the sick-notes, glass legs and mirror smashers who were constantly, regularly, depressingly injured with a tweaked this, a broken that and a bruised the other.
He would certainly make the Sidelined XI that I have just scribbled on the back of an elasticated support bandage packet. Malcolm Christie and Matty Bates (how many cruciates can one man tear?) are the first names on the team sheet then comes unlucky Tony McMahon and Huth. Woodgate had his share and Arca has had one bad one per season since he came. Juninho was hardly an ever-present either.
Here's my team. I went with wing-backs to play to our strengths in that department with Phil Stamp and Keith O'Neill. I put Viduka, who had lots of genuine injuries, especially in the hibernation months, ahead of Boksic up front, if only because you suspect the Croatian was only ever taking Robbo for a ride. Certainly his record improved dramatically when Venables arrived. Have I forgotten anyone?