The billboard exhorting us to obtain a Sky HD box in time for the World Cup proclaims: "50 million believers", but that number must be decreasing sharply with each and every new twist to Fabio Capello's plans and an England player's limbs. What can be confirmed amid the chaos of the past week is that whether or not the Italian hand on the tiller has been quite as firm as normal, Capello will not be jumping ship. A clause in his original, lucrative four-and-a-half-year contract that allowed both parties a get-out should things not be going well has now been deleted – after talks between Capello and the FA's Lord Triesman and Sir Dave Richards – and, barring a calamitous World Cup, he will continue until July 2012.
"I see my name in a lot of newspapers in Spain, in Italy," Capello said of job offers both real and imaginary (Manchester City supposedly being the latest interested party). "I am happy here with the FA. I like this job, I like this country, I don't think about the future. I have a contract with the FA, my contract will finish whenever, whatever happens unless the FA decide to sack me."
There is no question of that, though some senior offic-ials were shocked by his lack of judgement over the "Capello Index", the player ratings tool that threatened embarrassment for England players until he belatedly agreed to suspend it on Tuesday. While announcing details of the index the previous day, he must have had other things on his mind, as feelers were being put out to no fewer than three thirtysomethings to rejoin the England squad after absences of up to six years; the fitness of several others, including Gareth Barry and Bobby Zamora, was being checked; and David Beckham was being sounded out as a coach.
In the event, Jamie Carragher said "yes please", Paul Scholes said "no thank you" and Phil Neville had to point out that he had just undergone an operation. Neville was doubtless too polite to add that, by the way, he had a brother who was a better right-back than Carragher, the Liverpool defender having been understudy to Gary Neville in two of the three group matches in 2006, after earlier being used as a holding midfield player.
The obvious conclusion from Carragher's appearance in the provisional squad of 30 was that he will go to South Africa, his club-mate Glen Johnson being the only other player capable of playing right-back. When that suggestion was put to Capello in a Sunday newspaper briefing, however, he detonated another little grenade: "I can change the style. I can play with three centre-backs. This is another option."
Having never done so in 18 previous matches, he is now considering doing that, if Barry – ruled out of contention on Monday, back in on Tuesday – ultimately fails to regain full fitness. All of which suggests a major lack of confidence in the other holding midfielders to protect the defence, namely Michael Carrick, Tom Huddlestone and Scott Parker. If it is any consolation, the build-up to these tournaments is rarely straightforward at the end of a demanding English season, played out at a fiercely high tempo in a league with too many teams in it. Rewind to 2002, when (shortly after Sven Goran Eriksson's dalliance with Ulrika Jonsson was revealed to a bemused nation) Gary Neville was ruled out and Matt Jansen was told he was in the party, then left out of it. Within five days of the official squad announcement, Steven Gerrard and Kieron Dyer were out injured, then Dyer was back in and finally out again. Trevor Sinclair came home from Asia, then had to fly all the way back because Danny Murphy dropped out, meanwhile Nicky Butt and David Beckham missed the two warm-up games. Four years later Wayne Rooney, like Ledley King, fractured a metatarsal, two stand-by players withdrew and another of them, Scott Carson, had to be called in as the third goalkeeper when Robert Green was injured taking a goal-kick. All that before the tournaments actually began.
Tactical inspiration can come late as well. The sainted Alf Ramsey did not find his best formation in 1966 until the quarter-finals of the tournament, his hand forced by Jimmy Greaves' injury. Twenty years later, Bobby Robson switched from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 (at the instigation of senior players, it was always claimed), and in 1990 he suddenly did what Capello is contemplating, opting for three central defenders because he was frightened of how two would fare against Holland's Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten. It worked well and apart from the next game against Egypt, England stuck with it and almost won the World Cup.
Tactics and personnel aside, Capello is stressing the importance of recreating the squad spirit that has inevitably been diluted after having only three days together since last November. "My challenge is during this period to create a group, to create the spirit of the team, because I think this is a really good thing," he said. "The big, big challenge is to recover the spirit I saw during the qualification. We have time to do this. Without that spirit of the group, winning spirit, it will be impossible to arrive at the [World Cup] final, which is my target."
Beckham's extraordinary inclusion as a coach, rather than some sort of mascot-talisman, should presumably be seen in that light: "It is really interesting, this question, because he played a lot of games for the national team. Always he was important for me. He could have gone on his holiday during the World Cup or stay at home with his family but he prefers to stay with us. This is the reason why I selected him always. He is important. He can do anything but he wants to be with us. He has a love of the shirt."
Had he not suffered an Achilles injury, Beckham would certainly have been in the 30 named last week, adding even further to the pressure on the wide positions. As it is, six wide players have been picked, without Ashley Young and Stewart Downing. One or two of them will fail to make the final 23, as well as probably a centre-half, a left-back, a couple more midfielders and a striker.
As he sat back to watch the FA Cup final yesterday, crossing fingers that his five squad members would come through unscathed, Capello can only have been looking forward to a quieter week's preparation than the tumultuous seven days just gone.