Publicly Fabio Capello ascribed the errors made by Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry in Amsterdam this week to "pre-season", but that was not the only reason for his lack of ire. The Italian was reluctant to criticise players who, in attempting to play the ball out from the back, were following his instructions.
Capello has been shocked by the inability – and reluctance – of English footballers to play the ball out of defence. It is why he is firmly behind Trevor Brooking's campaign to improve the technical coaching of five- to 11-year-olds.
Possession is everything at elite level. If the goalkeeper kicks long there is only a 50-50 chance of retaining the ball. Capello thus asked Rob Green to pass the ball short, to his defenders, or to a midfielder dropping deep like Barry, with the aim of moving the ball forward through the team.
The problem is English players are not, in general, coached to do this. From an early age, goalkeepers and defenders hump the ball long, not least because these players tend to be the least technically proficient and are uncomfortable in possession. At best the ball is thrown to a full-back who plays it down the line. Even in the Premier League there are teams, such as Stoke, who get the ball forward early on the basis that if they lose it in an advanced position they at least have plenty of players behind the ball to defend.
The irony is that Ferdinand and Barry are two of the more accomplished ball-players in their respective positions. But the Dutch, sensing their opponents' unfamiliarity with the tactic, pressed and reaped dividends. Not that the fault was just with those two, more team-mates should have been offering to receive the ball. It is a whole culture Capello, and Brooking, are trying to change.