Coach mulls over biggest gamble of his reign


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The Independent Online

Fabio Capello does not give too much away in his post-match press briefings. Generally speaking, Capello is straining to get away from his final assignment of the night, long after he has done his turn with broadcasters from all over the world, as well as the international press.

It is in those moments, usually past 11pm on a match night, often more than an hour after the game has finished, that you see the stress of being an England manager even on a man as experienced as Capello. His grasp of English is shot to bits, frazzled by the adrenaline that is still pumping, and, with newspaper reporters crowded around him, this diminutive 65-year-old can look quite vulnerable.

But on Tuesday, having watched his England team take another step backward with a hesitant, unconvincing performance against Wales, Capello gave an insight into his team that he had hitherto kept private. His confession that he knew that something was wrong when he watched his players in the warm-up on Tuesday was a remarkable declaration to make.

Where does Capello's confession leave him? It leaves him mulling over his biggest gamble yet as England manager. Whether to abandon the last members of the golden generation and place his faith in the young players on the fringe of the first team, many of whom he would not have recognised before last summer's World Cup finals.

That is not to say that the likes of John Terry and Ashley Cole are about to be tipped overboard. But the mood in the Capello camp was that once qualification is in the bag, and they hope it will be secured against Montenegro in Podgorica next month, then they will do all they can to give the young ones a chance.

Who are these young players that will make up the team alongside the likes of Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Terry, and Cole? Jack Wilshere for one. Then Ashley Young, Theo Walcott, Stewart Downing and perhaps even Scott Parker. None of them, except maybe Walcott, could be classed as young.

The next tier is Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill – who have taken the first step. After that come the unproven. Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley, Andy Carroll, Danny Welbeck, Jordan Henderson, Kyle Walker, Kieran Gibbs and Frankie Fielding. A coach's natural conservatism would suggest that you can take a handful of those players but to pick a squad that included all of them would be some leap in the dark.

As the end-game begins for Capello, most likely once Euro 2012 qualification is ensured, we will start to see him unfettered by the usual protocols. It will dawn on him that he will never have to manage these players again beyond July and, accordingly, he will start to behave like a man with nothing to lose. Judging by Tuesday's briefing he is already feeling that way and the beneficiaries will be the young players who, one year earlier, Capello never even knew he had.