Beleaguered Capello beset by echoes of the McClaren era
Luckless, unloved, and with vital qualifying matches ahead, the England manager is suffering an injury nightmare – just like his predecessor. Sam Wallace reports
Tuesday 31 August 2010
In the last two weeks of Steve McClaren's reign as England manager, the squad's injury problems became so overwhelming that the situation would almost have been comical had the team's situation not been so precarious.
The day that Fabio Capello's predecessor announced his squad for the final Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia, Wayne Rooney injured himself tripping over an ice box while playing head tennis. John Terry's knee locked. Michael Owen strained a thigh in the warm-up game against Austria. Ashley Cole was injured. Rio Ferdinand was suspended. And all anyone remembers from that defeat at Wembley in November 2007 was McClaren's wretched brolly.
Capello has never shown much interest in what happened before he was England manager but now, at his lowest ebb, he might recognise some of the misfortune that afflicted McClaren almost three years ago. From the moment Capello's side beat Andorra in the first 2010 World Cup qualifier two years ago, the Italian has lived a charmed life until, that is, his side arrived in South Africa in May.
Since then he has learned that being a successful England manager does not just require a glittering career in club management and a single-minded approach to the job. You need luck too. And the injuries afflicting Capello's squad this week as he begins qualifying for Euro 2012 suggest that his luck is running dangerously low.
Like McClaren, Capello finds himself with huge injury problems in defence. When McClaren faced Croatia in that infamous 3-2 defeat on 21 November he had none of his first choice back four fit. Of Capello's current first choice defenders, he still has Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole at full-back although Cole's recent problems with an ankle injury have been severe enough that Kieran Gibbs has been steered away from the under-21s as cover in the senior squad.
McClaren was so low on centre-backs in November 2007 that he had to play Sol Campbell and Joleon Lescott as a partnership for the first time. On Friday against Bulgaria, and then Switzerland in four days' time, Capello must choose from Michael Dawson, Phil Jagielka, Matthew Upson, Lescott and Gary Cahill. It is not the ideal set of options for an England manager in desperate need of a good result.
Jagielka has a bruised foot and although the Football Association think he will be able to train tomorrow, that is by no means certain. The five central defenders have just 35 caps between them, of which Upson has 21. He is currently part of a West Ham team who have lost all three games this season. Lescott, who is regarded by Capello as cover at right-back, is playing at left-back for Manchester City.
As the squad met yesterday afternoon at their headquarters, the Grove in Hertfordshire, Capello was without the kind of players upon whom he has had to rely in the past. There is no Frank Lampard, no Rio Ferdinand and no John Terry. That lack of experience will be felt more in defence acutely than anywhere else.
A chance for someone else to shine? Maybe, but Capello would not be picking Jagielka and Cahill if his more experienced alternatives had been available to him. There might have been an appetite for a new direction after the disappointment of the World Cup but Capello is inherently conservative and would rather go with what he knows with six valuable points at stake.
Another major injury concern is Peter Crouch, by far England's most reliable goalscorer when it comes to his strike rate per minutes on the pitch. The Tottenham man is struggling even to walk at the moment having ripped muscles in his back against Wigan on Saturday. Nevertheless he was part of the 24-man squad that reported for duty at the Grove last night.
The hope with Crouch is that he will be fit to play against Switzerland in Basle next week where his effectiveness away from home against physical opponents will be invaluable. He was virtually ignored by Capello during the World Cup and dropped for the squad to play Hungary earlier this month but he remains committed to England.
There are fewer problems in midfield although the England manager has chosen to overlook the claims of Tom Huddlestone and Aaron Lennon, both of whom were exceptional when he watched them against Young Boys at White Hart Lane last week. Lennon is considered just too susceptible to an ongoing ankle problem and was left out of this squad despite ostensibly being fit
It is quite a fall from grace for a player who was among Capello's pre-World Cup favourites and was one of two right-wingers taken to South Africa instead of Theo Walcott, now firmly back in favour again. Lennon started the first two World Cup matches against the United States and Algeria before being dropped for the Slovenia game. Also missing from the squad to play Hungary, Capello seems to have lost faith in him.
More baffling is Capello's decision to pick Michael Carrick ahead of Huddlestone who has been one of the early season's star performers. Capello gave Huddlestone his England debut in November against Brazil and he has since developed into a fixture in Harry Redknapp's team.
By contrast Carrick has played just 16 minutes of Premier League football at Manchester United this season, as a substitute against West Ham on Saturday. His omission from the squad to play Hungary earlier in the month was because Capello thought he was injured. That proved an embarrassment when the player started in the Community Shield game against Chelsea.
Unused at the World Cup, Carrick is one player who never seems to inspire Capello. Picking Huddlestone was an opportunity to give a young player his chance but, under pressure, Capello has gone back to some very familiar faces. His squad had a light training session last night and will be in front of the cameras at Arsenal's London Colney headquarters this morning.
These are tough times for Capello and anything less than two wins in the next seven days will be regarded as another failing. Capello could argue that next Tuesday's opponents Switzerland are no pushover having beaten Spain in the first group match of the World Cup finals. But as McClaren found out three years ago, it is not the circumstances around games that an England manager is judged on – it is the results
35 caps between them England's centre-backs for the Euro 2012 qualifiers
Matthew Upson: Age: 31, Caps: 21, Club: West Ham
Phil Jagielka: Age: 28, Caps: 4, Club: Everton
Joleon Lescott: Age: 28, Caps: 9, Club: Man City
Michael Dawson: Age: 26, Caps: 1, Club: Tottenham
Gary Cahill: Age: 24, Caps: 0, Club: Bolton
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