61 year-old Italian managerial legend Fabio Capello begins his reign as England manager for real tonight when his charges take on Switzerland in a friendly at Wembley. At this stage he seems to have the media, the players and the fans all behind him. Long may it continue.
I have criticised Capello’s decision to leave out David Beckham at some length, and I have also questioned the appointment of Steven Gerrard as captain (Let’s not have that debate again, I know lots of you don’t agree with me!) However, I have to say that the more I see and learn about Fabio Capello, the more I like him and his style.
He is very clearly the man in charge and it is nice to see our pampered players looking just a wee bit nervous of their new leader. It won’t do them any harm to have a manager they respect and of whom they are a little wary.
Capello has banned rounds of golf before the game, saying, “They can play as much golf as they like on Thursday.” He has banned mobile phones. Will our top players survive for a few minutes without talking to their agents, managers and business advisors? He has banned the WAGS. Fantastic.
Under Steve McClaren we had a manager who seemed to be in awe of the players. Now with Capello it seems to be very much the other way round.
Capello is being careful not to raise expectations too much, saying we should not “expect miracles,” and that he is not “The Messiah”. He is already pointing to the fact that only 38% of players in the Premier League are English. He is doing what he can to keep our hopes and aspirations realistic. He will have a tough job. By the time the qualifiers come around the press will have us as favourites for the World Cup!
I like the fact that Capello is speaking English to the players but still refuses to do so with the media. He is well aware that his every word is analysed carefully and that using a new language he could easily say something that would be misinterpreted and held against him.
The team he is likely to put out at the start of tonight’s game (Editor: this is based on the final training session from Tuesday) has some interesting elements. The most noticeable thing is that only Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole are likely to survive from the team that capitulated against Croatia. Having seen the quality of our young goalkeepers, Capello is going to turn to David James. This is a worry. Hurry up and get fit Ben Foster!
Matthew Upson will partner Rio Ferdinand at the back. This is the benefit of a new man coming in and watching some players for presumably the first time. Not many of us would have considered Upson for the England side but if Capello has watched games and feels that he is performing to the necessary level, then he is rightly selected.
The wide players he has selected are David Bentley aged 23, and Ashley Young aged 22. This is quite exciting. If both players perform how they regularly do for their clubs, we should be in for a rare treat of England looking good on BOTH wings.
It doesn’t seem that there is a place for Michael Owen, but on current form that is probably fair enough. There do not seem to be many goals in the partnership of Wayne Rooney and Joe Cole, but if Capello can bring out the best in them, and also produce the Gerrard that plays for Liverpool, together with better delivery from the flanks, then goals could come from anywhere.
From being at one of the lowest points in England’s football history, I suddenly feel as optimistic about the national teams chances as I have ever done. Maybe, just maybe, we have a manager who will be able to make supposedly World class players perform at a World class level. I think he is a class act.
Come on England.