Wherever it is that Fabio Capello takes his summer holidays must be an extremely relaxing place. The England manager came back to duty yesterday to announce confidently that his team would beat Croatia next month, that they would qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals and if Wayne Rooney chose to smoke on his honeymoon then, quite frankly, that was his business. The Italian did not even flinch when he was reminded that the most in-form England striker at the moment is Darren Bent who, with 12 goals in six pre-season games for Tottenham, can now consider himself a contender when Capello announces his next squad on Saturday night.
With Wayne Rooney out with a virus and Michael Owen's pre-season delayed by the mumps, Bent is back in with a chance. Capello's general manager, Franco Baldini, watched Bent play against Roma on Sunday. "Baldini told me he [Bent] played very well," Capello said.
For a while yesterday it was possible to forget that Euro 2008 had taken place little more than three months earlier without England, so forthright was Capello in his dismissal of the threat from Europe. England's last friendly before World Cup qualifying begins is against the Czech Republic a week tomorrow and next month they face Andorra away on 6 September and Croatia in Zagreb four days later. Not that Capello, who watched Croatia in person at Euro 2008, was worrying unduly. He described the team that beat England twice in qualification for Euro 2008 as having – in his English – "flag spirit".
"Croatia played good enough. They played with spirit, pride in their country. Patriotism. They're a good team playing on the counter-attack very well. They've got good quality in midfield and in their forwards, but I think we are ready to win against Croatia.
"I think we have a very good team. It's not important who the opponents are. What's important is us. It's very important to me. For qualification for the World Cup, I will be in South Africa. I'm sure [of it]. Why not?"
Why not? Because England have been here before and failed so dismally and Capello's unflagging enthusiasm is exactly the type that has bedevilled his predecessors on their wretched journeys of false hope. What struck him at Euro 2008, as he said before, is that England lack the confidence to perform as other nations do. "The level of the players is good, but we are at the same level or better. We have to play with this spirit," he said. How do England achieve that? "I have to transmit this spirit. We have to play with a lot of confidence. I'm sure we will do so."
There is certainly no confidence lacking in the manager who was speaking at an event held at Wembley by the Football Association's "community partner" McDonald's. We are obliged to mention the FA's generous sponsor who expected a little something in return for giving 900 children the chance to run around on the Wembley turf yesterday. They may not be the first global business you would associate with the pursuit of sporting excellence but then neither would you expect to see England's most talented player having a cigarette on his summer holiday.
The topic of Rooney, currently recovering from a virus and unlikely to be available to England next week, is never far away from an England manager's thoughts. He was warned by Capello about his tackling in training at the last England camp, a worrying temper issue that the new super-relaxed Italian dismissed with a little joke.
"I think Rooney is just married," he said. "He will be better." Did he, like Sir Alex Ferguson, prefer his players to be married? "It's better for their wives. Usually, when they're married, they find a balance."
On the subject of Rooney smoking on his honeymoon in Las Vegas, Capello sounded more like a trendy modern parent than the strict Catholic patriarch we had him down as. "I know a lot of players who smoke, it is part of life," he said. "When I was a player, a lot of my friends and team-mates smoked. It depends if he smokes five cigarettes or 20 cigarettes." Later, he returned to clarify that he was joking. He did not condone smoking and he did trust the players to look after themselves.
Fair enough, because there are a few things that Capello will not tolerate. He said that he would not be picking players who were not getting games for their club sides which could be bad news for Joe Cole given the challenge he faces making the Chelsea team this season.
He will tell the new England captain – either John Terry or Rio Ferdinand – that they have the job the day before the Czech Republic game (a week today) and not before. The new man will find out a few minutes before the FA announce it to the rest of the world.
"The best team won the Euros because Spain played with confidence," Capello said. "After the game against Italy, they played with a lot of confidence. There were other teams and countries who played with a lot of spirit. Technically we are very good like the Spanish players, but we have a different mentality. And I think the movement of the team on the pitch has to be very compact."
Once again, it seems that England have a manager who believes the job is as much about psychology as it is about tactics, which, of course, might just be right. Capello says he knows his team for the match against the Czechs depends on whether Rooney and Steven Gerrard – who has a thigh injury – are fit or not. He gave the impression of being a man who feared nothing about the next 11 months, although like the rest of us, he must have his private doubts.Reuse content