The Fabio Capello regime is revealing itself in the little things he does to keep his players from drifting into complacent habits, such as the DVD presentations in which he pauses games mid-action to demonstrate to the whole squad the error of one individual.
John Terry described it yesterday as the "red beam" treatment, in reference to the laser pointer that Capello uses first to highlight the mistake on-screen and then to pick out the relevant player. What drama in the darkened television room as everyone holds their breath while the red circle seeks out the offending individual.
Terry's offence has been to be caught jogging back into position when he should have been sprinting and he admitted the beam has sought him out in at least one team debriefing. "You know the minute you've seen your mistake, or a misplaced pass, and you're thinking: 'Please don't stop the DVD now'," he said. "Then he stops it and gets his red beam and flashes it at you. It's definitely something that plays on your mind."
Of course, pretty much every serving England manager is praised by his players for his innovation and fresh approach; it is just that Capello has made qualifying for a World Cup finals look easy. That means that even the simple things he does, like picking out a player's basic mistakes, take on an aura of authority.
Had Steve McClaren done the thing with the laser pointer, he would probably have been compared to a junior executive kitchen salesman giving a presentation in the meeting room of a Travelodge off the A5. He does not have the aura. Because it is Capello, the laser pointer becomes authoritative, even innovative. You could say that the same effect applies when it come to the experimental team he is playing tonight.
Capello wants to start with two wingers, not just any wingers but a couple of old-school style speedy midgets in Aaron Lennon – on the left – and Shaun Wright-Phillips on the opposite wing. It is a throwback to the Chris Waddle and John Barnes days, both of whom were brought on by Bobby Robson against Argentina as England chased an equaliser in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final.
Ditto, the days when Ron Greenwood picked Peter Barnes and Steve Coppell in the same team. In the current day it is a much safer option in a 4-4-2 system to pick one traditional winger and another on the opposite flank – a James Milner or a David Beckham – who can do a more orthodox, solid midfielder's job. But what the hell, Belarus tonight does have the feel of the last day before the summer holidays begin.
In fact the Belarus team prepared for their final World Cup qualifier by going shopping in Oxford Street yesterday. Even so, Capello will only add to his current lustre if he can make an alternative formation from the usual 4-2-3-1 – and one that is without Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Emile Heskey – work for England tonight. "We won't always play the same style," Capello said. "We need to play other styles, styles A, B and C. It depends on the opposition and the style of the game we need to play. We played always more or less the same style in all the games we've played. Sometimes, during the friendly games, we've changed it. But we need to practise other styles. I want to see some players in different positions."
That England do not have an alternative way of playing has been a regular criticism of the side over the regimes of Capello's two predecessors. Sven Goran Eriksson was never afraid to change the formation – he switched from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 between the group and knockout stages of the last World Cup – but his problem was that the players themselves never really bought into it.
McClaren's attempt at innovation was a disaster, the night when he tried to play 3-5-2 in Zagreb in October 2006 and lost a Euro 2008 qualifier to Croatia. Capello is not attempting anything quite so radical. With Gabriel Agbonlahor in attack and Wright-Phillips and Lennon on the wings he has pace in abundance. With Peter Crouch in attack he has a more effective goalscorer than Emile Heskey.
As always seems to be the case for Crouch, this game is being billed as another make-or-break occasion for the striker in which he must prove himself for Capello, as if the 16 goals in 34 caps so far were not enough. On paper it all works nicely. Crouch has the support of two wingers who can theoretically play to his strengths better by providing early crosses into the box. However, Lennon and Wright-Phillips' weakness has always been the accuracy of their delivery once they have got the dangerous side of the full-back.
"We won't be running around celebrating or jumping on each other's backs," said Terry when asked to contemplate what it would mean to do a lap of honour at Wembley tonight to mark World Cup qualification. "It's a quiet clap to the fans to show our respect to them. It is the minimum requirement for us to be in a major competition. It's a major achievement because we've come a long way since last time."
He is right about the last part. This time last year, very nearly a year to the day that England played Belarus in Minsk, Ashley Cole had just been booed at Wembley for giving a goal away against Kazakhstan with a misplaced pass. A month earlier, Capello had said that he would sooner play in the hostile Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb than in front of England's even more hostile fans at Wembley.
After the final whistle tonight, a cast of England players will take the applause of the home support who, Capello hopes, will be saluting another managerial master-class before heading for the North Circular. The beauty of being Capello at the moment is you can try just about anything – 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, laser pointers – and people treat it as a work of genius.
Remaining fixtures (tonight): Andorra v Ukraine (16.30), England v Belarus (20.00), Kazakhstan v Croatia (16.30)
Floundering under Fabio: How England have gifted opponents goals
Milan Baros England 2 Czech Rep 2 (20 Aug 2008)
John Terry is slow to react as Baros is allowed room to turn and shoot a deflected shot past David James.
Zhambyl Kukeyev England 5 Kazakhstan 1 (11 Oct 2008)
Ashley Cole loops an attempted back pass straight into the path of Kukeyev, who scores easily.
Pavel Sitko Belarus 1 England 3 (15 Oct 2008)
Igor Stasevitch dummies Wayne Bridge before crossing for Sitko to head home.
Patrick Helmes Germany 1 England 2 (19 Nov 2008)
Helmes shoots into empty net after Scott Carson and Terry both leave a long ball.
David Villa Spain 2 England 0 (11 Feb 2009)
Phil Jagielka surrenders possession before failing to track run of Villa.
Andrei Shevchenko England 2 Ukraine 1 (1 Apr 2009)
Chelsea striker stabs home after a free-kick ricochets off a bemused Glen Johnson.
Dirk Kuyt & Rafael van der Vaart Netherlands 2 England 2 (12 Aug 2009)
Ferdinand's backpass puts in Kuyt. Later Barry plays the ball to Robben, whose shot deflects to Van der Vaart.
Zlatan Ljubijankic England 2 Slovenia 1 (5 Sep 2009)
Nejc Pecnik turns Johnson and crosses for Ljubijankic to head past Green.
Sergei Nazarenko Ukraine 1 England 0 (10 Oct 2009)
Ashley Cole is caught in possession, before deflecting Nazarenko's shot home James.
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