James Lawton: End of old boys' club lets Capello mould a team full of possibility


Click to follow
The Independent Online

How odd that somewhere quite soon along the road to the beautiful old city of Krakow and the European Championship finals Fabio Capello's new and, relatively speaking, near anonymous England, will almost certainly find itself for some time at least under the shadow of David Beckham's Great Britain Olympic football team.

Beckham's Olympians may be shunned by the other home nations, understandably anxious that their compliance might mean the beginning of the end of their existence once the clouds of hype have dispersed, but we are told that the Goldenballs Caravan is sure to be a trundling reality.

So you can take your choice, you can laugh or you can cry or you can simply reflect that here may be the last evidence of an old and utterly discredited celebrity culture of England's national team.

For Capello, of course, there must be a touch of irony, in that in one sense it means he goes out pretty much where he came in.

Remember that first storm around his head concerning the precise timing of the awarding of Beckham's 100th England cap? For some time before the magic century mark was passed, Capello might have been excused the belief that the celebration of an icon of a distinctly undistinguished past might just be more important than the making of a new team – and a much sturdier competitive order.

In one background meeting the new head coach was asked if there would have been a similar fuss back home in Italy if someone like Paolo Maldini or Franco Baresi had been hovering around such a landmark selection. "Not in a million years," he whispered.

Of course, Capello played the smart game, placating the Beckham lobby, speaking of his huge value as someone riding the bench who might be able to make a contribution out of his vast experience and enduring skills. So the caps dribbled along.

Now at Wembley tonight we have a somewhat different prospect, which has little do with old reputations and almost everything attached to the possibility that after great passages of trial and error, and the convulsions of last year's World Cup, the England team has not for at least a decade been so free of the trappings of an old boys' club.

When Croatia knocked England out of qualification for the last European finals, Michael Owen declared that if you examined the team sheets not one Croat would have made it into the England side. No one ever had reason to question the professional instincts of Owen, but it was a remark that revealed a certain state of mind. It shocked several members of the winning 1966 World Cup team.

That was a team, of course, built on the ethos of relentless performance. When the heroic Geoff Hurst bade farewell to the coach Alf Ramsey at Heathrow airport after a foreign trip he casually added, "'See you next game." The coach glowered and said, "If selected..."

Tonight against Sweden the majority of England's team know that they will be analysed quite as acutely as the men who last Saturday brought down Spain with their adherence to a game plan built around the reality of their opponents' superior skills.

It was certainly refreshing yesterday to see Capello move so swiftly from victory over the world's best team to the different nature of the challenge presented by 14th-ranked Sweden. For the likes of Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson it is the kind of situation that might just make their international careers.

It is the opportunity to play in the moment and with the understanding that possibilities under Capello have never been so fluid.

The worry at the moment of triumph over Spain was, of course, that the old illusions might take hold. Cesc Fabregas baited England with the charge that their tactics had been negative and coach Vicente del Bosque also turned up his nose at the Capello methods. England's coach merely smiled at these attacks on the old truth that in football the imperative will always be to give yourself the best chance of winning.

"It will be different against Sweden, another kind of problem," he said, but there was a certain lightness in his tone. It could just be that in his last months as England coach he has an old sense of players who understand that they are fighting not to preserve what they have but something they may never have suspected they might achieve.

It is the making of a new team – and a hard new understanding of quite what they have to do.