For the first time as England manager, Fabio Capello came close to losing his temper yesterday when cross-examined about his new hardline stance over injured players and uncooperative clubs. It is the first major battle that he has had to fight with the Premier League clubs – and Liverpool in particular – and he was not yet prepared to go public with all his grievances. At least not this time.
For Capello, the request for details of how Steven Gerrard came to be declared injured by Liverpool, then called up and subsequently sent home and why Frank Lampard had to be examined first were at first baffling and then irritating. The England manager is aware that he is being drawn into the politics that have beset all his predecessors but he is not yet on a war footing. "These are the rules," he kept repeating yesterday over his stipulation that any player named in a squad and subsequently declared injured by his club must be examined by a Football Association doctor.
To Capello it is simply not necessary to spell out why he is not yet prepared to take the big clubs at their word. He will not articulate his distrust of them outright, instead he settled upon a word suggested by the FA spokesman Adrian Bevington to summarise his new approach. "Protocol" is the way that Capello defines his relationship with Premier League clubs over corroborating their players' injuries. It is a word well suited to a man accustomed to doing things by the book although no England manager has ever really been able to negotiate a system in which he will be fairly treated.
Yesterday Capello could have gone further, he could have poured public scorn on the Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's reluctance to send Gerrard 200 miles south from Merseyside to be checked up at the team hotel outside Watford. You get the sense that Capello's time will come but, 11 months into the job, his patience has not just yet been pushed to the limit. It was the same way with Sven Goran Eriksson, pushed around by the clubs right up until the last moment when he finally stood up to one of his tormentors – Sir Alex Ferguson on this occasion – and made his own decision on Wayne Rooney's fitness for the 2006 World Cup finals.
So when he finally calmed down Capello mentioned the names of four young players who have evidently been on his mind of late and have, amid the leftovers of this England squad, the most to look forward to tonight. Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, Michael Mancienne and Stewart Downing were the players who the England manager picked out as potential starters and, although this match will forever be defined by those who were not there, as non-events go it is not a bad one in which to play.
Young and Downing are players we have seen in an England shirt before. Downing is not the most inspired choice but this is exactly the kind of night when it would further all these players' careers to play inspirationally. Capello has said that they will be offered the kind of chance that might not present itself again in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.
The England manager is not a great experimenter, more, he says, a man who prefers to consolidate. Given that he has also demonstrated himself to be the kind of man who will not be messed around when it comes to getting senior players for friendly matches, the opportunities for young players to break through will be few from now until 2010. Make the most of tonight, he will tell his young players, because a good performance against Germany in Berlin can launch an England career.
"I think Agbonlahor is a very interesting player," Capello said. "He's young. Mancienne is young as well. Ashley Young, also. He [Young] played in Trinidad and Tobago in the second half and it is very good to know these players. To see them play another game, like Downing, is important. I'm very interested, first, to know during training yesterday and then in a match situation."
He mentioned Theo Walcott too, citing the manner in which the teenager from Arsenal seized his chance against Croatia in September and has remained in the team ever since, though after last night's shoulder injury he will now miss the Germany game. He even compared the prospects for the 20-year-old Mancienne, who has never played in the Chelsea first team, as similar to those of Walcott when he made the 2006 World Cup squad having never played for Arsenal.
"I know Mancienne has been on loan [at Wolverhampton Wanderers] for a month," Capello said. "He played with the Under-21s and I know him. I'm confident in him. He's young. I remember when Sven put Walcott in the squad. It's the same. You have to put younger players in sometimes. You know the other players"
Not as if they needed any reminding of the significance of tonight's opponents, but there was a seat on the England flight for Sir Geoff Hurst who is in Germany as a guest of the FA. "I respect the fans and for me, it's not a friendly either," Capello said. "It'll be very interesting for the fans to see another squad, another team. I'm sure they'll play a big game. I've confidence in my team. I want to win every game. Friendly games are only practice matches in training and I'm the referee. And I always win."Reuse content