Between all those trips to Old Trafford, Villa Park and the JJB stadium it is a fair bet that Fabio Capello has not yet had time to settle down to watch a much underrated study on the trials of managing England's blighted national football team. The film Mike Bassett: England manager offers a few painful home truths to a new England manager potentially naming his first squad today.
At one point in the film the embattled Bassett writes his squad down on the back of a cigarette packet and subsequently shocks English football by inadvertently calling up two players from the lower leagues. As it turns out the pair in question, Benson and Hedges, are well short of international pedigree. But at least Bassett causes a stir. The problem for Capello this week is how he makes a statement in picking an England squad that looks and feels like it belongs to a new era.
Try doing it yourself: 23 names on a piece of paper for the squad to play Switzerland on Wednesday that will stun and astound the country. After a few botched attempts, and assuming that David Beckham's current cardiovascular shortcomings rule him out – as was being rumoured yesterday – this was my list: Carson, Green, James; Richards, Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Lescott, Campbell, King, Bridge, Ashley Cole; Bentley, Lennon, Barry, Hargreaves, Gerrard, Wright-Phillips, Joe Cole, Ashley Young; Rooney, Crouch, Owen and Agbonlahor.
Not exactly a revolution is it? Obviously that squad means there will have to be a tricky call to Beckham (or a message on his voicemail if Capello gets lucky). He can get his 100th cap when he is match-fit. Frank Lampard and John Terry seem to have no chance of recovering from injury in time. Strangely enough, the toughest call would be leaving out Jermaine Jenas. He is not a player who usually elicits strong feelings but he has played well this season and runs Owen Hargreaves close for a place.
It would also be good to give Tom Huddlestone a chance in the senior squad – he has excelled in midfield and central defence at times for Spurs this season – but a fit Ledley King wins that debate. Just how fit King will be in the long term – or even come Wednesday, for that matter – is doubtful. Michael Owen is the one nod to reputation. His form of late certainly does not merit a place in the starting XI.
Capello may yet name 30 players today and keep us guessing as to the final configuration come Saturday night. But even a cursory attempt to second-guess him reveals the problems with picking this England squad. It is dominated by the proviso of selecting two players for every position and three goalkeepers – perhaps Capello will abandon that strategy for friendlies to give more new players a chance. Certainly, David James and Sol Campbell are only in on the basis that they give cover at goalkeeper and centre-back.
For Capello, the simple truth is that there is not a potential shock factor, or put another way, no Benson and Hedges for him to pick. So what does he do for the big effect? Drop Beckham? Been done before. Change goalkeepers? Tried that and look what happened against Croatia. Change captain? Tough on Terry, but it is not exactly tantamount to revolution.
Capello's methods will doubtless become clear over time and he probably feels that he can make his presence felt throughout the England team in ways other than picking a few new names for Wednesday's game. Eventually, both his predecessors Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren found themselves in thrall to the players who succeeded in the Premier League and the tactical solutions of its managers, which automatically became England's players and England's tactics.
When Eriksson moved Steven Gerrard to the right wing, he did so because Rafael Benitez had already done it at Liverpool. When both managers kept their blind faith in Gerrard and Frank Lampard functioning together in central midfield, they did so because they watched both of them succeed there – individually – for their clubs. Both tried to imitate the successes their players had for their clubs domestically in the desperate hope it would work for England. Capello, you have to hope, will see Premier League football as a starting point for the way he picks his team, but not the solution to how England should play.
This England era will surely be more about who Capello leaves out than who he brings in. Lampard and Rio Ferdinand hit 30 this year but, other than Beckham, Campbell and James, there are no regulars old enough to make them obvious candidates to drop. It seems implausible that Capello will not give the "golden generation" a chance. The Under-21s have a nice crop of players in the shape of Michael Johnson, James Vaughan, Huddlestone and Matt Derbyshire but Capello can hardly pick players who can scarcely make their own club sides.
Beckham set to be kept waiting for his century
David Beckham is set to be omitted from Fabio Capello's first England squad when it is announced today. It means the 32-year-old will not win his 100th cap in next week's friendly against Switzerland at Wembley which marks the Italian's first game.
Capello will today reveal a provisional squad of around 32 which will be cut to 23 when the final squad is announced on Saturday. Given the impressive form of Shaun Wright-Phillips and David Bentley, it is believed he has decided to leave Beckham out as he lacks match fitness, although he will not close the door on the former captain playing again for his country and may well bring him back in May for the next friendly, by which time Beckham will have been involved in the new MLS season.
It is a big decision for the coach and yesterday he made a less surprising choice in naming Stuart Pearce as part of his coaching set-up for the senior team. Pearce, 45, will still be coach of the England Under-21s and will take charge of their game against the Republic of Ireland at Southampton next Tuesday. He will then join up with Capello for the senior game.
Familiar names – or fag packet?
Sam Wallace's England squad for Switzerland game: Carson (Aston Villa), Green (West Ham), James (Portsmouth); Richards (Manchester City), Brown, Ferdinand (both Manchester United), Lescott (Everton), Campbell (Portsmouth), King (Tottenham), Bridge, A Cole (both Chelsea); Bentley (Blackburn), Lennon (Tottenham), Barry (Aston Villa), Hargreaves (Man United), Gerrard (Liverpool), Wright-Phillips, J Cole (both Chelsea), Young (Aston Villa); Rooney (Man United), Crouch (Liverpool), Owen (Newcastle) and Agbonlahor (Aston Villa).Reuse content