Fringe players do little to catch Capello's eye
Sunday 11 October 2009
If, as some believe, Fabio Capello is Sir Alf Ramsey in an Armani suit, there is little doubt he will show the same ruthlessness that Ramsey displayed in paring down his World Cup squad.
Ramsey was only once required to qualify for a World Cup and, when he was, it triggered the downfall of his ageing regime. He had four years to hone a team to win the Jules Rimet trophy and another four to defend it in Mexico in 1970. Eight months before the 1966 tournament opened – the same stage Capello is at now – England lost 3-2 to Austria at Wembley, after which The Guardian claimed that Bobby Charlton was completely unsuited to Ramsey's tactics.
However, only one member of that side, the Chelsea forward, Barry Bridges, did not make the final 22 that gathered in the Hendon Hall Hotel, although three others, including the goalkeeper, Ron Springett, were consigned to the role of spear carriers in the great drama that was to unfold.
Capello has no Gordon Banks but a collection of goalkeepers, who in international terms are good to middling. Robert Green's inclusion ahead of David James was significant but not, you felt, as significant as the decision to bring David Beckham from Los Angeles to the altogether grimmer banks of the Dnieper and then leave him out completely. Or what happened in the 14th minute.
For a goalkeeper in possession of the England gloves the simple avoidance of error is enough. On the flight back to London, Green would have replayed his decision to throw himself at Artem Milevskiy's boots and shuddered, despite the fact that the misjudgment that triggered it was Rio Ferdinand's. Despite saying before kick-off that he "fretted" over his international future, the Manchester United defender is certain of his place in South Africa; Green is not and the one advantage he supposedly has over James was that he is not prone to the rushes of blood that have scarred the latter's career. As he proved last night, James has always been a superlative shot-stopper.
That Aaron Lennon was the man sacrificed should prove only a temporary hiccup. In the opening five minutes he produced the startling burst of pace that can unsettle any defence in world football. It would be cruel – crueller than taking someone from California to Ukraine and not playing them – were the Tottenham winger not to start against Belarus on Wednesday.
For a side reduced to 10 men, there are two options. They either resist heroically, as Glenn Hoddle's England did against Argentina in 1998, or they fold. England managed the former, especially after the interval, while sometimes threatening the latter. In St Etienne, Alan Shearer and Michael Owen had taken it in turns to make shuttle runs to unsettle the Argentine defence. Here, it was Wayne Rooney, a man who relishes heroic demands, rather than Emile Heskey, who probed and menaced.
For the rest of the fringe players, for whom there will be no dead international until the plane departs for South Africa, Michael Carrick's natural edge over Gareth Barry – his ability to strike long, telling passes – was nullified by the requirement to drop deep and shield an overstretched back-four.
Glen Johnson, however, was able to exploit Lennon's absence to make his own driving runs down England's right– which also led to him being pulled out of position. It was an advantage that Ukraine did not always exploit, although in eight months' time others might.
When Ramsey made his decision he explained to each discarded player that he "needed players to win a World Cup" to which the West Ham forward, Johnny Byrne, replied: "Can we keep our official macs, Alf?" Capello will have the same motivation, though it remains to be seen whether he will be as generous with the freebies.
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