Ferdinand is a worry but Cole comes in from cold
Sunday 08 November 2009
Only two England managers have ever beaten Brazil, and neither had a statue unveiled at Wembley on Friday. One was Walter Winterbottom, in the first meeting between the countries in 1956; the second was Sir Bobby Robson, who did it at home (1990) and away (1984). So the next stadium for Fabio Capello to sprinkle a little of his stardust on is the Khalifa in Doha, Qatar, the unlikely venue for next Saturday evening's friendly.
The temperature will still be in the upper 20s by then, "dry, not wet, a good test for the players", Capello said on Friday. "The weather will not be an excuse." Nothing is in the current regime. It might even be an incentive, with the promise of a little warm-weather training, for players and managers to be keener than usual on a mid-season friendly of the type recently decried by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Capello will wait with a little more anxiety than usual for the word from both dressing-rooms at Stamford Bridge today, where Chelsea take on Ferguson's side with up to eight players trying to impress him before the squad is named later in the evening. There would have been more but for Gary Neville's suspension at a time when he could be proving his worth as understudy to Chelsea's Glen Johnson at right-back; and the worrying injury problems that have undermined Rio Ferdinand.
The implication on Friday was that anyone not fit enough to play today will not be on the long flight to Doha. There is every chance, however, for Joe Cole to restate his claims to the berth wide on the left from which Steven Gerrard and possibly James Milner of Aston Villa will be absent. Capello seemed to think that Emile Heskey would be available despite being taken off at half-time in the defeat at West Ham in midweek that has cost Carlton Cole his chance of a return to the squad. Tottenham's Jermain Defoe is also fit again after injury.
It is, of course, too early for the manager to be worrying about anyone's fitness for the summer – a lay-off could actually be beneficial – but the concerns about Ferdinand are that back injuries are tricky ones and that Matthew Upson has rarely shone when called in as a replacement. "[Ferdinand] is one of the best centre-backs in the world," Capello said. "He needs to be really fit but he has some problems."
Though always reluctant to comment on what went on before he strode into Soho Square almost two years ago, he knows that England made a mistake in going to major championships with players struggling to regain fitness. "The players that will be with me for the World Cup will all be fit," he said in one of those matter-of-fact statements that brook no argument. "It is impossible to wait on one player. Little things, OK, but bigger problems no. When you have to recover someone, it is not good. Also it will not be a warm season. It is easier to recover in a warm season and it will be cold in South Africa."
Some like it hot and will enjoy Doha. They must come through the damp British November weekend first.
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