Fabio Capello last night declared that Rio Ferdinand had only himself to blame for not being personally informed of the decision to strip him of the England captaincy, and the manager offered only a grudging apology to the Manchester United player, in the course of a muddled and chaotic explanation of events surrounding John Terry's return to lead the side.
In an explanation that did nothing to restore an air of calm to Capello's management before today's vital Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales at the Millennium Stadium, the England manager said Ferdinand had failed to show up in the United directors' box, to be told in front of 70,000 fans at United's Champions League game with Marseilles last week, that his tenure as captain was over. The England manager also appeared to admit that his decision to bring Ferdinand's captaincy to an end was based on his scouring of press reports. He insisted that he did not consider a phone call to be an appropriate form of communication.
"I was in the directors' box. Rio didn't come. Ask him," said Capello. "I tried to meet him and it didn't happen. During the Marseilles game. I waited for him in the directors' box just before the game started, but it didn't happen."
Invited to make a public apology to the 32-year-old, Capello replied: "No, please, no. Come on. Questions about the game, please." But he did strike a note of contrition, admitting that "communication with Rio could have been better", and concluding "sometimes I regret what happened".
Capello is likely to pair Darren Bent with Wayne Rooney up front and appears increasingly inclined to go with Frank Lampard in central midfield alongside Jack Wilshere before a capacity 72,500 crowd, while Gary Speed seeks to mastermind Wales's first win over England since 1984. But Capello's own pre-match performance lent more credence to the view that he is losing interest in his £6m-a-year post.
Speed said yesterday that he thought "too much has been made" of Terry's reinstatement but while Gareth Bale's absence is a severe blow to the home side, the new Wales manager's erudite performance at his own press conference offered a stark contrast to Capello.
The Italian simply lacked any command of his brief when he arrived and his weak performance on the Ferdinand affair – which he knew would dominate the discussion – undid all of the Football Association's hopes that they had put the issue to bed by allowing Terry to discuss the issue a full four days before today's game.
The detailed account Capello offered was simply inaccurate. The England manager claimed that he had in part based his judgment on Terry's reinstallation as permanent captain on reports he had read of Ferdinand's fitness. "After I read a lot, a lot, a lot of different things, I decided John Terry would be the permanent captain. He was my first choice and I decided he would be the permanent captain. Not only for this game," the manager said. Yet the reams of material on Ferdinand's fitness, following Sir Alex Ferguson's disclosure that he might not play again this season, was published on 18 March – three days after the putative Old Trafford meeting at which Capello was purportedly planning to break the news to Ferdinand. Privately, the United defender is baffled by the suggestion that a meeting in the Old Trafford directors' box – in the full glare of the crowd – was ever planned.
It was when confronted by the rank unsuitability of the proposed meeting place that Capello caved in and acknowledged his error. "Ok, I think it was impossible ... after what I read.... Sorry, for me, the most important thing is the game tomorrow. Sorry. It's possible to do sometimes everything better. I don't like to speak about the captaincy on the phone. I prefer to speak personally. Before the last decision about John Terry, I spoke personally with some players, that are here. I spoke with the team about my decision. I prefer to speak in person. Maybe I made a mistake." As so often, his tendency to answer questions before they had been fully translated added to the confusion.
As to whether the English nation would point to this muddle if Wales won, Capello replied: "This is a question for tomorrow". His decision not to start with Andy Carroll – which has surprised the Liverpool striker, who feels in good shape – is based on his belief that he is still "not at his top form" three weeks after his return from a thigh injury. Capello, who watched Carroll in Liverpool's win at Sunderland, said: "He's good, and improving. He's not the same player who played against France in that period. Because he's big, he needs games. I think it's good to play [him after] half-time. Not to start."
After discussions with Liverpool, Carroll has concluded that it would be better if he does not join the England Under-21s at the European Championships in Denmark this summer. Carroll was dropped from a senior squad having failed to report to the Under-21s to have an injury checked, though Capello said that it was for Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce to discuss with their clubs whether Carroll, Wilshere and Kyle Walker should play a part.
Capello appears ready to go with the more offensive midfield option of Lampard, rather than West Ham United's Scott Parker, together with Wilshere against a Wales side who are bottom of Group G and without a point. "I think we need to play in our style, not defensively. I think so. And I will decide the first XI that I want to win the game."
It was left to Terry last night to assert that Capello really is still committed to the England job. Asked if he subscribed to the view of English scrum-half Ben Foden that Wales were a "younger brother" to be "put in their place", Terry replied: "Football's a bit different. I'd love to come out and say something like that, but at the same time ... we come with an attitude where we can't lose the game." But after Capello's performance any kind of lucidity would have been welcome.
Group G table
Results so far
England 4-0 Bulgaria, Montenegro 1-0 Wales; Switzerland 1-3 England; Wales 0-1 Bulgaria; England 0-0 Montenegro, Switzerland 4-1 Wales.
Today: Wales v England; 4 June: England v Switzerland; 2 Sept: Bulgaria v England, Wales v Montenegro; 6 Sept: England v Wales; 7 Oct: Montenegro v England, Wales v Switzerland; 11 Oct: Bulgaria v Wales.Reuse content