In the room at the Football Association's Soho Square headquarters where Fabio Capello shared his thoughts on Thursday about the national team's next match, there is a bookcase containing a volume entitled The Best Of Enemies: England v Germany. David Downing's history of the old rivalry would be useful reading for the manager during the build-up to Wednesday's friendly in Berlin, to ensure that he understands fully the passions involved.
Some 7,000 England supporters in the Olympic Stadium will make their own feelings known, no doubt with the usual combination of patriotic fervour and bad taste. "I know very well," Capello insisted of the background to the contest. He also knows that a German team confirmed that same day as No 2 in the world behind Spain, who beat them in this summer's European Championship final, will provide serious enough opposition not to allow more than minimum licence with the experimentation of personnel he has promised.
Form and fitness, including the necessity of playing regular club football, are still key factors, which is good news for Tottenham's newly confident and prolific Darren Bent, less so for older hands David Beckham and Michael Owen. Of the younger element hoping to step up after a successful period with Stuart Pearce's Under-21 side, Capello said: "It's good when you put one or maximum two young players in the team. Put one or two into a team that already knows each other, so they know how to play together. Sometimes it's very dangerous to put in too many. We are playing Germany. I want to know [them] better, see them train and study them."
The worry about throwing in too many of the younger element is that a heavy loss could damage the fragile confidence Capello identified when he took over at the start of the year but which has been slowly rebuilt in four successive competitive victories during the past two months. "The confidence is different," he said. "In the first game we played, against Switzerland [a shaky 2-1 win last February], we played without confidence. Now after we won four games in the World Cup I can see confidence. It is the most important thing since I arrived."
How has he brought about this transformation from the jittery group who failed to hold on for a crucial home draw against Croatia a year ago? "We had meetings with the players and spoke about errors and the system and removing fear and finding confidence. English players played very well with their clubs but not with the national team. The players understood what I asked. Step by step I see we improve every game and every training. I asked the players what they thought, I like to involve them. After that I decide."
From a man often described as a martinet, there are echoes of Brian Clough's approach: "We talk about it for 20 minutes then decide I was right all along," but there is probably a more genuine element of democracy here – just. The consultations did not run to asking the players what went wrong under Steve McClaren: "I asked the people who work at the FA. I studied the games on DVDs, I understood the results. But you have to remove the past. I never spoke about the past in my life. When we won against Croatia, I said it's one step, and we have to work for the future. We have to remove the past, that is my system."
As ever in football, results justify the means. England are on the up – literally, in the Fifa rankings, now standing in 10th place – but they will need a much better performance on Wednesday than in the previous most testing away game, when France deservedly beat them 1-0 in March. Capello may plead injuries to players such as Emile Heskey, Joe Cole and Ashley Cole, but the Germans are missing half-a-dozen regulars, including the Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack and Bayern Munich's Philipp Lahm.
The last four meetings...
17 June 2000
England 1 Germany 0 (Charleroi)
The one bright moment of Euro 2000, sandwiched between 3-2defeats by Portugal and Romania, was achieved by Alan Shearer's header against a poor German side who finished bottom of the group.
7 Oct 2000
England 0 Germany 1 (Wembley)
Keegan resigned in the toilet, admitting he was not up to the job, after Didi Hamann's low free-kick skidded past David Seaman to put England's World Cup prospects in jeopardy. Enter Sven...
1 September 2001
Germany 1 England 5 (Munich)
"Five-one and even Heskey scored": The jubilant song did scant justice to the big striker, who would hardly have been fancied at the time to outlast his partner, the hat-trick hero Michael Owen.
22 August 2007
England 1 Germany 2 (Wembley)
Steve McClaren's weakened side, lacking any pace, prepared for the critical autumn of Euro 2008 qualifiers by fading badly after Frank Lampard's early goal and a howler by Paul Robinson.
Who is Michael Mancienne?
Hungry like the wolf: Spotted by Chelsea as an eight-year-old playing for Kingstonian, the ball-playing defender is on loan at Wolves. Primarily a centre back, though also able to play at right-back, he is an established England Under-21 player. Spent most of the 2006-07 season on loan at QPR and was runner-up in the Supporters’ Young Player of the Year award.Reuse content