Capello wins over players and public
Six million pounds a year, or whatever the true figure is (these sums tend to be exaggerated) may be an absurd amount to pay a football manager; but Fabio Capello is almost looking worth it. Given the luxury of five friendly matches to adjust to international management and to improve the morale and discipline of a demoralised squad, he has won the players over and is slowly doing the same with the public and the press.
At last, leading players are beginning to carry club form on to the international stage and performing without the "fear" that Capello identified early in his reign. In addition, since the serious stuff of competitive football began last month, there has been evidence of a quality hugely valued in any coach at any level: the ability to spot defects during a game and put them right. In three of the four World Cup matches to date – Croatia being the obvious exception – when England have had an underwhelming first half, Capello has reacted as early as half-time with either substitutions or a tactical change.
In the opening group match away to Andorra, depressingly goalless by the interval, he did not hesitate to take off two attacking players who were not performing – Jermain Defoe and Stewart Downing – and replace them with Emile Heskey and Joe Cole. Cole broke through Andorra's reinforced defensive wall twice within 10 minutes of coming on to win the game.
Last Saturday at Wembley, there was a switch of both tactics and personnel at half-time, when Shaun Wright-Phillips came on as a second wide player to open up Kazakhstan and another goalless first half was followed by five goals in little more than half an hour. Finally, in Belarus, the midfield were told to stop sitting off the opposition and Steven Gerrard was sent forward behind the two strikers to occupy the influential holding player Alexander Kulchy.
Rather than allowing anyone to rest on their laurels, Capello is now publicly committed to introducing three or four younger players for next month's friendly away to Germany. Joe Hart, Micah Richards, David Wheater, Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor have been mentioned, all of whom would continue the progression from the Under-21 side that Stuart Pearce, their coach and Capello's assistant, is so passionate about.
In the meantime, Gerrard had a useful warning for the younger element after the Belarus game when he said: "The experienced players have got to help the younger ones in the squad and say, 'Hey, we've got to be humble, keep your feet on the ground and keep working hard'." He might even have had in mind Wayne Rooney, who with adrenalin flowing after scoring twice, had been lured into saying England could win all 10 group games. Rooney added: "On Saturday there were people saying I was on the left and it didn't work, and tonight in the second half I played more towards the left and got two goals. I'm approaching 20 goals for my country and I'm still only 22, so if people can't be pleased with that I don't know what will please them."
"A new manager has come with different ideas and is slowly building a winning team," Gerrard said. "The important thing is the manager has a lot of belief in the players. He knows he can improve this team. He's a good manager and the players have a lot of respect for him." So, increasingly, does everyone else.
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