England’s performances against USA and Trinidad and Tobago can hardly be described as spectacular, but Fabio Capello has learnt some extremely valuable lessons for when the real business begins in September.
Of course, supporters will expect a much more vibrant and cohesive display of football against Andorra and Croatia in the opening two World Cup qualifiers, but in those matches Capello will be starting his best eleven, based on what he has viewed so far in his post as manager.
There will be no room for sentiment, and the Italian will need to make some serious decisions which will leave big names upset and disappointed. But this is England, and we need to play the system that suits us best with the players that suit that system best on the field each match.
This will be a vast contrast to previous boss Steve McClaren’s regime which involved picking his team on reputation, and despite terrific domestic form shown by players such as David Bentley, David James and Gareth Barry last season, for much of the time he stuck with underperforming stars like Frank Lampard and Paul Robinson.
This way of work seems ridiculous to Capello though, and English supporters across the nation believe his style of ruthless management will bring the best out of the decreasing number of English players available for his selection. If a player isn’t performing to the standard expected of him, then he will be out – it’s as simple as that for the Italian. Just because somebody scored twenty goals for his club a few years back, it does not give him any flicker of advantage over his international colleagues.
Frank Lampard is a prime example of this. A huge amount of sympathy must be felt for the Chelsea midfielder, after the tragic death of his mother and his club’s narrow failure on both domestic and European fronts, but quite frankly his England form has simply not been good enough in recent times to merit a prominent role in the side.
Capello has stated that he still believes Lampard is a very good player, but the rise of Aston Villa skipper Gareth Barry can surely not be overlooked. His central midfield partnership with Steven Gerrard has flourished quite beautifully, and if his expected transfer to Liverpool is completed this summer their relationship in the centre of the park can surely only blossom further.
Capello must have seen how Barry’s control and calmness on the ball drove England to stable wins over USA and Trinidad and Tobago in the past week, which was complemented perfectly by Gerrard’s energy and attacking force. It is looking increasingly unlikely that Lampard has a regular place in the balanced midfield that Capello has unearthed, unless the Italian sees the Chelsea midfielder a workable proposition on the left-hand side.
But the creative gem of Joe Cole, the improving Middlesbrough winger Stewart Downing, Blackburn’s quality David Bentley and the experienced pro of David Beckham will surely be the favourites to fill the winger positions, which means Lampard must be subject to the substitute’s bench.
And will he even be the third choice central midfielder? Manchester United’s energetic mystro Owen Hargreaves has consistently performed well for club and country, and despite not starting all too many of United’s games, he has done brilliantly to break up the opposition’s attacking play when on the pitch for England. In fact, his showings have been so good that it would be regarded as terribly unfortunate if he missed out on a starting role, which looks likely as Barry and Gerrard are still remarkably one step ahead.
These are the decisions which Capello relishes, but McClaren feared. But being brave and ambitious is the only way to be England manager, and Capello knows his methods will eventually pay dividends.
But there are some lessons which he has learnt that will mean the axe for some players who were previously in serious contention for substantial involvement. Dean Ashton had a real shocker against Trinidad and Tobago on Sunday night, and although a player cannot be properly and fully judged on just forty-five minutes worth of play, if a professional cannot perform well against such minnows then who can he perform well against? Capello will definitely have noted his inability to perform on the international stage.
Jermain Defoe, however, proved himself to be a very classy finisher in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and his two goals will have put him in amongst Capello’s first-choice array of striking talent along with Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney and Peter Crouch.
So with David James excelling himself between the sticks, the defenders looking particularly relaxed and comfortable, the midfield taking shape quite beautifully and the strikeforce proving they can score some goals, Capello’s England look like they might be a very serious force to reckon with in the World Cup 2010.
But nothing too presumptuous can be said at this early stage, as the Italian manager is still in his baby years as England boss.
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