Fabio Capello yesterday denied that a website launched in his name in which he will rate his own England players' performances in World Cup matches could have a potentially harmful effect on the squad's chances of success in South Africa this summer.
One day before he names his 30-man provisional World Cup squad, Capello yesterday launched a player rating system that he hopes will become the basis for the internet's biggest virtual football management game, with fans paying up to £199 in games that offer the chance to win £1,600.
However, it opened the door for huge controversy with the England players' performances being judged and ranked according to Capello's own criteria.
The "Capello Index" has the potential to be an embarrassment to Capello and the Football Association, posting online player ratings within two hours of World Cup matches ending. He will be at Wembley today to announce the 30 players who will be whittled down to 23 on 2 June for this summer in South Africa.
Capello tried to play down the project as a bit of fun but it represents the first gaffe of an era that has hitherto been very sure-footed in contrast to some of the Italian's predecessors. Capello, who is paid £6m a year by the Football Association, is a stakeholder in his index and is set to cash in on the lucrative online market if it proves to be a success.
"It is good for the fans, for me it is good – no problem," Capello said. "There will be no pressure." Capello was at pains to point out that the one quality not measured by the index was the "mentality" of his players and therefore it could not be regarded as reflecting completely his opinion of them.
"It is not only about the performance but the value that the players bring to the mentality of the national team," he said. "Some players are really good on the pitch and not good when they are with the national team. In Italy there is a big question about these players."
The "Capello Index" rates players on 105 different criteria drawn up by Capello which have in turn been finessed into a ratings system by an Italian professor of sport and an internet entrepreneur, who are business partners of the England manager. Capello even jokingly admitted the ratings may influence his selection of today's squad and the final 23.
The England manager also learned yesterday he will not be able to take Gareth Barry to South Africa, confessing that the length of time needed to recover from his ankle injury was "too long" for him to be considered today. It opens the door for a remarkable return for Owen Hargreaves who has played only one minute of first-team football in 18 months during his struggle with career-threatening injury.
Yesterday Capello denied that the ratings system could potentially be divisive for his squad. "I remember that when I was a player I understood that sometimes my performance wasn't good," he said. "Sometimes it is easy to speak to players and say look at your index [score], you have to improve! You have to train more!"
Even the current standings demonstrate the potential for controversy. It currently only rates players from the top six teams in the Premier League from the last four weeks. Frank Lampard is the top-rated English player followed by Ledley King, both of whom are likely to make the squad but after him, the top five rated Englishmen are Michael Dawson, Paul Scholes, Sol Campbell, Joe Cole and Gary Neville.
Joe Cole and Dawson are both very borderline choices for the 30-man squad and unlikely to make the final 23. Campbell and Neville have been discarded by Capello and Scholes retired after Euro 2004.
Capello spent two years developing the index with Chicco Merighi, the internet entrepreneur, and Francesco Bof, an Italian professor of sport management. The website offers users a free option to play "for pride" or three pay-for levels where the stakes start at £29.99 to win a prize of £240 in "Capello XI", the fantasy football competition.
Top Premier League players, with ranking
1. Kolo Touré......... 68.41
2. Nemanja Vidic ......... 68.23
3. Frank Lampard ......... 68.05
4. Ledley King ......... 68.01
5. Salomon Kalou ......... 67.26
6. Jonny Evans ......... 67.03
7. Michael Dawson ......... 66.54
8. Paul Scholes ......... 65.88
9. Sol Campbell ......... 65.38
10. Vincent Kompany ......... 65.17