Capello's England in fantasy land

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The Independent Football

Fabio Capello appears a man without artifice. His predecessor, Steve McClaren, had his teeth fixed and took the advice of PR guru Max Clifford. Sven Goran Eriksson wore platform shoes and modish spectacles. Capello has the natural style of any expensively dressed Italian but, in general, he has ego but not vanity. At his core there seems to be a belief that there are no short cuts, that faking gets you nowhere and the individual is part of the collective.

All this is reflected in his football teams. Capello is in Austria at the moment scouting Croatia, England's main opposition in the forthcoming 2010 World Cup qualifiers. He watched their 1-0 victory over Austria on Sunday and, while impressed with Luka Modric's skills, it was the group mentality under pressure which struck him most.

After breakfast in his Vienna hotel yesterday morning, Capello revealed he has asked the advice of Luis Felipe Scolari and Marcello Lippi, the last two men to coach a World Cup winning team (with Brazil, in 2002, and Italy in 2006 respectively). "Both told me that their group was a very, very strong group, a very strong unit. The first 11 and the whole squad of 23 stayed together and were very focused.

"Croatia have a strong group. They work hard together, they suffer, everyone helps everyone and that's very important. In the last half-an-hour against Austria their spirit was very important.

"Without the group, it's impossible to win. You have to be together. Always at a World Cup, a European Championship, the team that wins it has a strong group.”

"I knew (Croatian coach Slaven) Bilic when he was a player and he has the same characteristics as then. All the managers put their personal characteristics on the team. I was chosen for my character.

"I remember in the first game when we played Switzerland, I was very worried because I didn't see the spirit and the English characteristics. But after four games I am very happy because step by step we have moved on and have found the spirit of the group. We fight, we pressed a lot in the last two games and we won the ball back quickly.

"These are the characteristics of the England players, but also I was surprised by the fact a lot of players are very good technically, very, very good.

"There are also players with fantasy and that is very important at this moment. Now, modern football is a 9-1 formation and without fantasy or one player dribbling, with good passes it is impossible to score goals.”

This has been evident in the Euro 2008 so far. Modric's twist and turn to take him away from Martin Stranzl set up Croatia's goal. Portugal's goals both came form individuals who were prepared to run at an opponent, Pepe, then Cristiano Ronaldo.

"You either have fantasy, or you do not," said Capello. "It's impossible to train the fantasy. But we have some players with good fantasy, very interesting players.”

He would not be drawn on who they are, but Wayne Rooney and Joe Cole leap to mind. Capello rarely discusses individuals, but a few players may ponder some of his general thoughts. Asked, earlier, about the possibility of Frank Lampard joining Internazionale he said 'every new experience enriches you'. Gareth Barry and David Bentley, both pondering transfers to Champions League clubs, and Wayne Bridge and Peter Crouch, who are both at such clubs but rarely start games, will be interested in such comments as, "It's very important to see the players every week. It's better for us if they play regularly. It's not important for players to be playing in the Champions League. A lot of players have done very well for the national team without playing in the Champions League.”

The need to be involved in the Champions League was a constant refrain under Eriksson who appeared to agree with the assertion, by Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson, that the Champions League was a higher level of football than the major international tournaments. He selected Ashley Cole - a shock at the time - on the strength of a Champions League performance in Munich.

"It's different," said Capello. "I played in the Champions League (then the European Cup) and managed in the Champions League. It's different." Capello, who also played international football, added: "The level of the games is possibly higher in the Champions League, but the pressure of international football is completely different.

"When you play for the country, with the English or Italian shirt, it's different. All of The pressure is on you from journalists, everyone. Playing for your club is not playing for two million people. I remember the pressure from fans of clubs like Inter and Roma, but with Italy it is everyone and it's the same with England. The pressure is much more big. It's a big difference.

"This is the reason a lot of good players play very well with their clubs, but are not the same as the national team. One example is (Cesc) Fabregas who is one of the best players in England, but does not play often for Spain. It's possible the pressure is very big and he suffers a little bit.”

The pressure of the shirt is one reason why he said he would give Dean Ashton a second chance after his lamentable debut in Trinidad. Capello added: "We try to build more confidence in the players so they can play like they do with their club, but sometimes they cannot do it. You have to choose the player that can play very well for both his club and the national team with the same confidence, the same fantasy and same strong mentality.”

It comes down to character again. Capello added that he will not be picking players on reputation, but all England managers say that. They tend to end up picking the big names because they are the best players, with the strongest characters, that is how they earned their reputations. It explains David Beckham's recall, for example. He may be a show pony but it took character to come back for England after France 98, and for Real Madrid under Capello.

Capello's next match is a friendly against the Czech Republic in August, followed by back-to-back September qualifiers away to Andorra and at home to Croatia. Only one team qualifies automatically from a group which also includes Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan - the eight best runners-up from the nine European groups play-off for the remaining four places. "I am very confident we will qualify," concluded Capello. "I know the players better and they know me now, and I'm sure we have a very good squad with very good players. I have a lot of confidence for the future.”