Fabio Capello finally confirmed publicly yesterday that David Beckham will get his 100th England cap this year – and the Italian said that he was even prepared to fly to America to watch the former captain in action. Capello made the admission at a forum with England fans, who pressed him on Beckham's international future.
Currently on tour in China with his club Los Angeles Galaxy, Beckham will be watched, Capello said, by either himself or his assistant Franco Baldini when he plays against FC Dallas on 15 March.
"I know Beckham very well from Madrid," Capello said. "I hope David will play the 100th game and get the cap. I understand from reading his last interview that at this moment his fitness isn't good. I will phone him because I want to know exactly what he thinks about his fitness at this moment."
Pushed on whether he was confident Beckham would get his 100th cap, Capello answered "yes". The Dallas game is only 11 days before England play France in Paris in Capello's second game in charge on 26 March. Should Beckham not be judged to be in contention, then he looks a certainty to play in the June friendly in the Caribbean against Trinidad & Tobago or the earlier fixture on 28 May at Wembley which will be against the US team.
Although his next friendly against France will come just three days after the majority of his squad are involved in the two games between the big four on 23 March (Chelsea v Arsenal and Manchester United v Liverpool), Capello took a robust attitude towards that friendly. He said: "For the next friendly, the approach will be very, very strong. On the Sunday are two very important games for clubs. We will only have two days to prepare for the tough game against France. Friendly matches do not exist. That is my approach."
Capello was speaking at the Football Association's englandfans forum with the FA's chief executive, Brian Barwick, and new chairman, Lord Triesman. On the subject of England's captaincy, for which the previous incumbent John Terry is now surely the favourite, Capello said that he would make his decision on "the man and not just the player". He has yet to meet Terry, who was injured for the game against Switzerland.
Capello said: "I have to know the man, not only the player. He's a symbol of the England team and I will choose him before qualification for the World Cup begins. He has to be a big player, but a symbol too. In Italy, the captain is the player with the most caps. A symbol is a good player, a good man and he has to represent the England team in every situation."
The Italian was also scathing about the disparity in performance from England players when they play for their clubs and their country – a legacy, he said, of the blow of failing to qualify for Euro 2008. Capello said: "I saw a lot of games and when they played for their clubs they were very confident, but when they played against Switzerland they changed.
"It is the first problem I came across. After England didn't qualify for Euro 2008, the confidence wasn't so good. I have to work a lot on this. I have to recover the mentality and their confidence [of the players] in themselves. I work with groups and individuals. This is work I have to do before qualification. It is very important. The winning mentality is very important. If you play with fear, it's impossible to win."
Lord Triesman also dipped his toe into the dispute between the FA and the Premier League over the controversial plans for a 39th game overseas, beginning in January 2011. He was accused by Sir Dave Richards, the Premier League chairman, of misrepresenting the FA board's view on the matter – a judgement that others on the board rejected. The Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, has since pulled out of the proposed meeting with Fifa and the FA, which had been set for 28 February.
Yesterday, Lord Triesman, a former general secretary of the Labour Party, said that he believed Scudamore's plan had "significant failings". He added that he did not take his decision lightly on 21 February to describe the plans as "unsustainable". Triesman said: "The Premier League is a remarkable tournament, with huge interest all over the world, and it's a pretty good shop window for football in this country, so I wasn't going to start with a war if not necessary.
"I thought the proposal had a number of significant failings. I said it was not sustainable, because of fixture congestion, international relations and, most importantly, football competitions must be understood to be fair and conducted with integrity. I couldn't see how a third game could conceivably be fair.
"You should play home and away and then we have this [39th game proposals]. I want to get to a point where we could discuss these difficulties. I was clear that, within 30 seconds of hearing it, we could have said something very popular [ie, have dismissed it]. I could have a reputation as someone who shoots from the hip or thinks before he speaks. I want the latter reputation. Because of this, our international relations have been strengthened."
Even in the presence of the FA's £6m a year Italian manager, Lord Triesman was still bullish about the detrimental effect of foreign players on English footballers' representation in the Premier League. Nevertheless, he said that Fifa's proposed "six-plus-five" quota system – which would impose a minimum of six home-grown players in every starting XI – would be difficult to enforce.
He said: "The foreigners issue does concern me. I want to see enough players playing every week, who will be eligible to play for England, so the coach can make an assessment of individuals, and how they play in a team. We have an incredibly successful league; the downside is that we are more limited than I think is healthy to produce a top-quality England side. There is no way around European employment law. It would be worth looking at regulations of competitions to see if there are things that can be done within the law to give us a better chance."
l David Beckham set up one goal as Los Angeles Galaxy eased to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Shanghai-Hong Kong United in Shanghai yesterday. The England midfielder was substituted with 20 minutes remaining after taking a knock to his right thigh, although the injury is not serious. Guatemala's Carlos Ruiz scored all three goals for Galaxy.