Capello picks his path through latest scandal

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The Independent Online

Fabio Capello comes from a country with a different attitude to England towards the private lives of its famous footballers and, at 64, he grew up as a player in a very different era. But it would be wrong to say that the England manager spends most of his time complaining about the English – instead he treats it with weary resignation as another part of a difficult job.

Just like the politics of keeping his former employer at Milan, Silvio Berlusconi, happy or the volatile presidential elections at Real Madrid, the complicated private lives of some of his England team are another thing Capello has to manage. Or, as he replied yesterday when it was put to him that this was one distraction he could do without: "It's England. It's the English newspapers. The other countries it's not the same."

In many respects the Rooney scandal that has blown up around the allegations that he paid a prostitute for sex during his wife Coleen's pregnancy has taken the edge off the focus that has been on Capello since his team crumbled against Germany in Bloemfontein on 27 June. Yesterday Capello could go back to being a manager protecting his star player on the eve of an important game, which was not a task he seemed particularly to resent.

It was seven months to the day on Sunday that Capello sacked John Terry as captain of England as he found himself at the centre of a media storm over the Vanessa Perroncel affair. But there was never any chance that Capello would take Rooney out the firing line for a crucial Euro 2012 qualifier against a decent Switzerland side once the player had reassured him he was ready to play.

Rooney made it easy for Capello by telling him on the flight to Switzerland and from then on the decision was academic. But his World Cup performances have demonstrated to the England manager that the man who scored nine goals in qualification for South Africa is not infallible and, on the occasions he is completely off-key, is arguably best left out the side.

In case anyone should forget, England have a big game tonight against the only side to have beaten the world champions Spain this summer. Capello knows Switzerland well – he has a home in Lugano – and should he fail to get results against Ottmar Hitzfeld's side tonight and at Wembley in June next year there is a good chance that he will be spending a lot more time there.

Capello will recognise that there is little he can do to ensure that Rooney plays at his very best tonight other than to cross his fingers and hope that this rare talent performs like a man unburdened. The scale of the 4-0 win over Bulgaria on Friday and the subsequent heat on Rooney have deflected attention from the fact that Capello's England are still very much in recovery after their dismal World Cup.

Capello is now wedded to playing Rooney as a deep-lying striker with Jermain Defoe ahead of him, which the England manager sees as a guarantee that the Manchester United man will be drawn into the game. "Rooney played a lot of different positions. On Friday, I asked him to play just in front of their two central defenders," Capello said. "He touched the ball a lot there. He was free to move around the pitch, always in the middle, and when he had the ball at his feet he was really good. He's so technically strong and, passing the ball, he was excellent."

Tonight against Switzerland could be, at the very least, a turning point in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign should England win. A victory would not resonate the same way as that 4-1 win over Croatia in Zagreb – two years ago to the day come Friday – which set the Capello regime on its way. But it would demonstrate that England have the strength, not to mention the depth, to their squad to ensure that, at the very least, they qualify for Euro 2012.

There is an embattled quality to this side, with two inexperienced central defenders in Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill, not to mention Rooney's travails. A draw would be acceptable; a win would be significant. Lose and England will be on the back foot two games into the campaign, just as they were when Steve McClaren's side lost in Zagreb in October 2006 in Euro 2008 qualifying. It was a result from which they never truly recovered.

How Defoe has learnt to be the perfect foil for Rooney

Fabio Capello has tended to pick forwards based on who provided the best foil for Wayne Rooney. This has usually meant 'a big man' to take the bruises, run the channels, win flick-ons, and generally create space for Rooney.

However, the lack of an English Didier Drogba, or even an ersatz Miroslav Klose, forced Capello to adapt. When the limitations of a game but aging Emile Heskey were confirmed in South Africa, the Italian gave Jermain Defoe a chance, and the 27-year-old was one of the few Englishmen to leave the World Cup with his reputation enhanced.

Defoe has always been an excellent finisher, but his international career was stymied by his weak all-round game. His link-up play and movement was ordinary and he was greedy even by the standards of strikers.

He is still selfish in front of goal, but the victory over Bulgaria highlighted how his awareness of space and other players has improved.

Rooney has always been gifted in those respects and his passing, and Defoe's finishing, proved a potent combination.

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