Fabio Capello's determination that John Terry should not be judged on a negative reputation means that he may lead out the England side against Sweden a week tomorrow, though Frank Lampard is emerging as the most likely captain to face Spain on Saturday, a game in which Terry will play no part.
Capello, who feels that he have been left by the Football Association with the responsibility of deciding whether Terry should play, believes he will have a clearer picture of the substance of the racism allegations made by Queen's Park Rangers' Anton Ferdinand by next weekend. That makes Terry's selection to start against the Swedes more likely, to the manager's mind.
Publicly, Capello insists that the decision not to play Terry at Wembley on Saturday is a footballing one, designed to help him assess how Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill and Joleon Lescott fare against the world's best international forward line. But with such an absence of possible captains – Capello may even turn to Gareth Barry if Lampard does not win a place on merit – the omission looks like a convenient way of removing him from press conferences and the general England spotlight at this time.
Capello, who gave Daniel Sturridge and Jack Rodwell their first call-ups in one of the most youthful squads of his England tenure last night, faced immediate dissent from Manchester City's Micah Richards, who was surprisingly left out for Glen Johnson at right-back."Well well well!!!! Disappointed is an understatement!!" tweeted Richards, whose performance in last month's Manchester derby typified his improved form this season. But Capello, who was so unconvinced of Richards' consistency that he selected uncapped Phil Jones ahead of him against Montenegro last month, viewed him in City's 3-2 win at QPR on Saturday and left Loftus Road still unconvinced. Johnson has started only three games for Kenny Dalglish this season.
Another player yet to convince Capello is Liverpool's Andy Carroll, left out along with Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand, despite having re-established a strike partnership with Luis Suarez. Lampard, meanwhile, can reflect on more international obituaries for him probably being premature. His winner for Chelsea on Saturday maintains his position as comfortably the club's leading scorer and he is proving to be survivor for both club and country.
Capello will look to Sturridge and Danny Welbeck to reveal themselves as the future face of England's strike-force in Rooney's absence. The Chelsea player has particularly impressed Capello with his versatility. "He has improved a lot. I saw him play right wing, left wing, centre forward," Capello said. "I want to know the value of some players because the game against Spain will be really important. The Rooney position will be really important not only in this game but when we play in the Euros in Poland."
Rodwell, whose selection with Jagielka and Leighton Baines, maintains a healthy Everton contingent, is another player whom Capello feels has improved this season. Before the current campaign, he had been struggling to fulfil his big reputation. Jones' stand-in role against Montenegro, which impressed Capello hugely, may now mean a role for him in midfield.
Capello insisted that Terry's display in the 1-0 defeat to QPR nine days ago was enough to persuade him that his catastrophic afternoon in the 5-3 reverse to Arsenal was a blip. "I prepare for four captains. I thought it was enough. Did I need to find 11 captains like the team?" Capello said. Ashley Cole, with 92 caps, was not a candidate. "He doesn't like to be a captain," said Capello, whose experimentation will not stretch to dropping Joe Hart on Saturday.
The FA will his week challenge Fifa's insistence that England cannot wear poppies next weekend, because of its rule that players may not wear "political, religious or commercial messages." With senior England players understood to be incredulous about the decision, the FA will seek a resolution before the squad assembles at the Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire on Wednesday.
The England squad to face Spain and Sweden:
Hart (Man City), Carson (Bursaspor), Stockdale (Ipswich); G Johnson (Liverpool), Jones (Man Utd), Cahill (Bolton), Terry (Chelsea), Cole (Chelsea), Baines (Everton), Jagielka (Everton), Lescott (Man City), Walker (Tottenham); Lampard (Chelsea), Rodwell (Everton), Downing (Liverpool), Barry (Man City), A Johnson (Man City), Milner (Man City), Parker (Tottenham), Walcott (Arsenal); Bent (Aston Villa), Sturridge (Chelsea), Agbonlahor (Aston Villa), Zamora (Fulham); Welbeck (Man Utd)