Ten problems that Capello must solve
A rigid formation, a struggling striker and worries at Wembley are some of the issues plaguing the manager
Thursday 14 October 2010
When Fabio Capello walked into the room in which he holds his late press briefing at Wembley on Tuesday night he spotted a fire extinguisher hanging on the wall by the door. Miming as if to aim it at the press corps, he joked: "Do I need to use this?"
To be fair to Capello the temptation to go on the attack in difficult moments must be strong at times. But the joke he made told its own story. Capello saw the game differently to most of Wembley. He saw English misfortune, a good Montenegrin goalkeeper and a bad penalty decision by the German referee. The alternative view was that England are in danger of getting stuck in a familiar rut.
Is Capello's vow to quit in two years affecting the players?
After the win over Switzerland last month, Capello was asked if he would consider staying on beyond Euro 2012 if the circumstances were right. He said that he would be leaving after that tournament, when his contract expires, whatever happened.
That was not a great surprise but the fact he was so explicit means there is a feeling now among some in the England camp – fairly or not – that Capello is serving out his time. In other countries players are accustomed to managers being in charge of clubs or national sides for a set timeframe and it does not affect them. English players are different.
To some players there is the feeling that this period of the England team's life – the Capello years – is winding down rather than gathering momentum as it did in the build-up to the World Cup.
Why is it always the same formation?
Capello is wedded to 4-4-2. He stuck with it through thick and thin at the World Cup finals this summer despite overwhelming evidence that the rest of world football had moved on. The problem is that when things do not work, the England manager is unwilling to adapt.
Kevin Davies came on for Peter Crouch and fulfilled the same role. Shaun Wright-Phillips replaced Ashley Young and did much the same job. But there was no change in England's shape. Capello has his way of doing things and his "Plan B" is simply to do the same with different players.
"We have to win every game with England, but sometimes it is impossible," he said, "because the opponents exist." Capello still has the mindset of a pragmatic club coach who tries to get the best from a bad situation. There was more than just a hint about him that, in the end, he was simply relieved not to have lost. He might be right. But it does not say much about his hopes for this team should they reach Euro 2012.
What does he do about Wayne Rooney?
Again, Capello tries to see the best in Rooney and given what he did for him in the last qualifying campaign it is not hard to understand why. As for Rooney's 60-yard charge after Elsad Zverotic which anyone could see would end in a booking at least, Capello said: "The yellow card [Rooney picked up] was really, really good because it was a really dangerous counter-attack".
The Capello camp see Rooney's confidence problem as self-perpetuating. In the build-up to matches he has looked fine but fails to spark in games. They believe that at first his injury in March prevented him from playing as he wanted to and that in turn harmed his confidence. When he feels uninvolved in the match, Rooney drops deeper to get the ball.
But the problem that England had in the World Cup is evident again. They have built the team around Rooney and when he is not performing, the system does not work. If Capello had the benefit of Darren Bent or Jermain Defoe on the bench, it would have been interesting to see if he would have substituted Rooney.
Who plays against France next month?
It is understood that Sunderland's Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll of Newcastle United are both possibilities for the squad to face France at Wembley on 17 November and for the Argentina friendly in Copenhagen in February. There is even the chance that Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott could all start in the France game.
Capello said on Tuesday that he will "absolutely" give a chance to younger players in the two forthcoming friendlies. Carroll could well have been in the squad to face Montenegro were it not that Capello and his staff felt that Carroll's refusal to join up with the Under-21s at their previous meeting – he was injured and refused to come south to be checked by the Football Association staff – should be punished.
As for John Terry and Frank Lampard, they will be brought back into the squad, too. There is no issue between them and Capello that they have missed the three Euro 2012 qualifiers so far.
Is this the right time to be bringing in young players?
From the group of players in the Under-21s – aside from Wilshere who has already made his England debut – the most likely contenders for a place in the senior squad for the next Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales in March would be Jack Rodwell, currently injured, and Henderson. But both of them are a long way back in the queue. And it is debatable whether this would be the right time to bring them in with the boat starting to rock.
For all the demands after the World Cup finals that Capello rejuvenate his squad with young blood, the truth is that the Wilshere generation will probably be ready to make that step up in numbers after Euro 2012. There are likely to be a lot of retirements after that tournament among the so-called "golden generation" and that will open the door to younger players, as well as junior squad members like Tom Huddlestone.
The notion that Capello should be throwing the likes of Steven Gerrard and Lampard out the squad now to accommodate Rodwell or Henderson in qualifying games – promising though they are – is just unrealistic.
Why no Wilshere against Montenegro?
Capello made a big play of taking Wilshere from the Under-21s when they needed the Arsenal man most for the second leg of their European Championship play-off. The manager said he thought the Montenegro team were too physical for Wilshere to be able to have an effect. The physical side of the Premier League has not stopped him playing a major part in games this season for Arsenal.
Is Wembley a problem?
Once again Capello dropped the hint that his players do not like playing at the national stadium – which is a problem for the FA who spent £757m on it. He first floated this view when England played Croatia in Zagreb two years ago on the basis that the expectations were so high at home that playing away took the pressure off.
Yesterday his point was that teams simply come to defend at Wembley. "One other thing, sometimes it's easier to play away than at home because the space is easier to find," he said. "I have spoken a lot about [the formations] 4-3-2-1, 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1. The normal formation is 9-1, like Montenegro. They played very well. Congratulations. If you score it changes everything because they have to go forward and you find the space. It's easier to play then."
Did we have the right-winger on the right wing?
A simple thing but Adam Johnson – who is left-footed – was on the right wing and Ashley Young – right-footed – was on the left. Both do that for their club sides and Johnson can go down the right touchline on his left foot, so good is his control. Young, however, has to cut in on his right and although that has proved successful in the Premier League it was less effective on Tuesday night.
What is the pecking order?
Joe Cole was picked in the original squad by Capello but when it came to selecting his substitutes on Tuesday night he selected Stewart Downing ahead of Cole who was left in the stands. Downing, a left winger, was a late call-up for the injured Aaron Lennon, a right-sided player. Cole can play both wings.
The Liverpool man might not have set the season alight just yet at his new club but he was nonetheless picked ahead of Downing last Monday. Eight days later he had fallen behind him in the hierarchy. A manager has the right to change his opinion but players are simple souls and this tends to confuse them.
Are we definitely finished with David Beckham?
I only ask the question because Capello backtracked on his August announcement that it was time for Beckham, in the Italian's famous words, to say "bye bye" to international football. Los Angeles Galaxy look certain to be in the Major League Soccer play-offs next month but there are seven days spare in the schedule from 14-21 November.
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