The greatest challenge faced by every England manager is turning potential into achievement. The present incumbent, Fabio Capello, is well aware that he is no different. Why is it that undoubtedly talented players have so consistently underachieved on the world stage?
"This is my toughest job, understanding why this happens, solving the problem," said Capello yesterday at an event organised by the England team's sponsors, Nationwide Building Society. "This is the problem that all my predecessors have had. I'm hoping I will be able to understand why and rectify it. Because looking at the performance of the English teams in the Champions League, then at the moment the Premier League is the best in the world. Absolutely. But can we win the World Cup? Let's just try and qualify first, then we'll talk about winning."
He was understandably circumspect about his chances of extracting world-beating performances from an increasingly limited pool of domestic talent – there were no bold Alf Ramsey-style predictions that "England will win the World Cup".
"I can't perform miracles," Capello said. "These are the players we have, and I can only call up the players we have. Creating new players is a long process, it takes a lot of time and you need talent to begin with. It's not going to be fast."
The most popular idea for reviving England's fortunes involves enlarging the pool of available talent by limiting the number of foreigners in the domestic game. Capello refused to be drawn on the matter.
"People talk about introducing quotas of foreign players but it's not for me to decide, irrespective of what my thoughts are on the matter," he said. "The situation we have at the moment in Europe with the free circulation of workers means there's not going to be any restrictions, whether we want them or not. Of course the more English players there are playing for English clubs the better it is for me. But at the same time it's good to see that the good English players tend to play for the good English teams irrespective of the number of foreign players. The quality comes out."
He sees other hopeful signs in the calibre of some young players who are coming through.
"The good news is that talents can start playing for the top clubs when they are very young," he said. "[Wayne] Rooney was only 18 when he went to Man United, for instance. There are a number of interesting players in the Under-21s and like all interesting players they can make a lot of progress in a year. So we are following them closely."
Capello refused to make any rash statements on the England captaincy, despite recent reports that he is planning to offer the job to the Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand.
"I think I need to see what their attitude is about wearing the armband, on the pitch and off it – that's why I've not chosen yet," he said. "A captain must be a leader. He must lead by example and drag the team forward. At the same time he needs to be a model outside the pitch and outside football.
"So I have not decided. I will not decide until the new season, so the next two England captains are not necessarily going to be who the final captain will be. For the game we have [on 20] August [at home to the Czech Republic], I plan to have my permanent England captain in place."
He also confirmed that this will be his last job in football.
"I have great memories of my time at Roma, Juventus, Milan and Real Madrid," he said. "Each one of them has been a challenge. But I look at this as my last, my final challenge."Reuse content