Fabio Capello has arrived in England to find the game in this country at its lowest ebb for many years. Failure to qualify for this summers European championships has left English football in the doldrums. He must have expected the worst when he started attending Premier League games in order to assess the talent he has available for selection.
This weekend Capello has watched the Premier League game between Aston Villa and Blackburn, and the FA Cup tie between Manchester United and Tottenham. He must have been pleasantly surprised, and wonder why everyone is so gloomy, and how a country with this much ability has contrived to fail to qualify for any tournament.
In the Villa game he will have seen the emerging brilliance of Villa winger Ashley Young. Young’s delivery from set pieces is developing into a World class ability which could be described as Beckhamesque. The free kick he scored with yesterday was also very similar in style to many scored by the LA Galaxy superstar. In open play, Young is quick, direct, and a constant threat.
He will also have seen Gabby Agbonlahor, another quickly developing talent with pace, skill, and an eye for goal. Behind them was the captain, Gareth Barry, who hardly put a foot wrong, as always. Alongside Barry was the former under 21 captain Nigel Reo-Coker, now playing with the drive and determination that brought him to prominence in the first place at West Ham.
Right at the back for Villa was Scott Carson, who has recovered well from his Wembley nightmare against Croatia and is again looking a class act.
For Blackburn, Capello will have been impressed with the former Liverpool full back Steven Warnock who is playing the best football of his career, and with David Bentley who despite being occasionally frustrating, possesses the sort of flair so rarely seen in English players.
Today at Old Trafford Capello saw Tom Huddlestone, Jamie O’Hara, Aaron Lennon and Jermaine Jenas all excel for Tottenham, and United’s Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Owen Hargreaves and Wayne Rooney all near to top form.
In one weekend Capello has seen fifteen fine English players, mainly still young, all playing at the very top of the game. Add the likes of John Terry, Ledley King, Micah Richards, Ashley Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Steven Gerrard, Michael Johnson and Joe Cole, and Fabio Capello must be feeling more optimistic about the future than he thought he would be.
The only question that needs to be answered is how we managed to let our national team hit rock bottom the way that it has. We have the talent, and we do have the pool of players to choose from, despite the number of foreign players in the top division.
Is it just possible that the answer can be summed up in two words? Steve McClaren.