He might have been in Africa yesterday spreading the word about the Football Association's good deeds but Fabio Capello showed that the conduct of his England players is never far from his mind.
The Italian gave his biggest names a stark warning that if they miss England's two end-of-season friendlies they risk being frozen out of his 2010 World Cup qualification campaign.
"If a player doesn't love to play for England, then perhaps he should stay at home," Capello said when it was put to the England manager that his two games against the United States and Trinidad & Tobago could fall victim to major player withdrawals – especially among those with the top sides.
He hit back by saying that he would be watching closely which players make themselves available and that he would not hesitate to drop those who think they can pick and choose when they play for their country. "Some of them would have been on holiday for a week by the time we play against the USA [at Wembley on 28 May] and Trinidad & Tobago [1 June]. If a player doesn't love to play for England then perhaps he should stay at home. Players must love the England shirt and that is all there is to it.
"If someone doesn't want to come and play for England it means they obviously don't love the England shirt enough. They must prefer to go on holiday. It is a very important time, first of all we will have a full week – many sessions. I can try different things, the league will have finished. They are a good group of players to work with."
There will be no special favours from Capello, who regards the next three games, including against the Czech Republic at Wembley on 20 August, as the basis of his World Cup qualifying campaign, which begins against Andorra in Barcelona on 6 September. In May 2005, the Liverpool players who won the European Cup were excused duty in England's two-match tour of America that followed shortly after the game in Istanbul. Capello will not afford potential finalists from Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool such a luxury.
These are more signs that the new man in charge of England is not prepared to bend to the whims of his stars, even on an issue over which his predecessors have been bullied. Capello was speaking during his trip to Lesotho, the tiny nation landlocked within South Africa where the FA has sent coaching and education resources for the past 10 years. Along with FA officials he is in Lesotho's capital, Maseru, to give support to the local football federation as well as programmes for those suffering with HIV/Aids.
The uneven surfaces of the Lesotho football association's training pitches, not to mention the sheep grazing on the touchline, provided an unusual backdrop to Capello's first pronouncements on the development of his England team since the friendly defeat by France last month. Chief among his concerns was the goalscoring form for his country of Wayne Rooney, who Capello said was not scoring enough for a player of his status and quality.
Rooney's problems in front of goal for England are nothing new: he went more than three years without a goal in a competitive game for his country between Euro 2004, when he scored against Croatia, to October 2007 when he scored against Estonia in Euro 2008 qualifying. "He is the most talented player in the squad," Capello said, "but the one thing he needs to improve – and will improve – is that he does not take nearly as many chances as he should."
Capello said Rooney, with 14 goals in 42 caps, needed to relax in front of goal. "Technically he is very strong," Capello said. "What he needs to do is be more relaxed in front of goal, not to have this obsession about scoring. He will improve year on year. He is young. It's true he is not scoring. But he has chances. And a player who has chances, sooner or later, is going to break the duck and start scoring. I've seen a few players who have looked like they were never going to become goalscorers, but they started scoring goals. It depends on how relaxed and confident you are in front of goal. I'm much more wary of forwards who don't get chances. It must not become an obsession. But I don't think he sees it as that."
Capello hinted for the first time that Rooney could yet be given a try as captain during the last two end-of-season friendlies, although he still seemed lukewarm about John Terry's chances of recapturing the captaincy. He denied that there was anything in the Chelsea captain's off-the-pitch behaviour to make him think twice, but did not confirm that Terry would get a chance in May or June. "I have choices to make. I am running my own tests. And I will make my choice based on my ideas. The important thing is that everyone plays for England at the top of their game and as relaxed as they are for their clubs."
Today Capello will visit a charity that raises awareness through football of the dangers of HIV/Aids. In a country of only two million people, 23 per cent of the population are believed to be infected with the virus. But Capello did point out to some of the children he met yesterday that they had one advantage over the English. "It is hot and sunny here but not in England," he said. "Because of the weather in England you cannot work on individual skills, you have to run a lot and football is more about physical strength. But it is changing."
England's next 10 games
28 May: United States (h) Friendly
1 June: Trinidad & Tobago (a) Friendly
20 Aug: Czech Rep (h) Friendly
6 Sep: Andorra (a) World Cup qualifier
10 Sep: Croatia (a) World Cup qualifier
11 Oct: Kazakhstan (h) World Cup qualifier
15 Oct: Belarus (a) World Cup qualifier
19 Oct: Germany (a) Friendly
1 Apr 2009: Ukraine (h) World Cup qualifier
6 June: Kazakhstan (a) World Cup qualifierReuse content