Nobody can say that Fabio Capello has not surveyed the probables, the possibles and the non-starters. In eight months he has scrutinised 31 players in the course of five friendlies, in which England recorded three victories – none of them terribly convincing, except in Trinidad & Tobago – lost to France and drew with the Czech Republic, both of whom made England look as far removed from World Cup finalists as ever.
To most eyes, England under Capello are already in default mode. Even those who initially were intoxicated by his presence are slowly turning to incredulity at his strategies. Already some are suggesting that Euro 2012 would be a more realistic target; that England will be eclipsed by Croatia on Wednesday week, and possiblyeven fail to reach South Africa.
It was forever thus for an England coach. But no one expected this reaction quite so swiftly after the appointment of one of the world's most distinguished club coaches. Clearly least of all him. After the man with the umbrella, there is just a hint that his successor is in the early stages of taking umbrage, though he insisted, as he held court last week: "For me, the pressure is normal. If you win, you are the best. If you lose, you are a stupid man. If you can't take the pressure, you can't do the job."
In 10 days' time, after games against Andorra in Barcelona next Saturday, then in Zagreb, we will perceive whether this is truly a work in progress, as Capello would have us believe, or whether he has made no more advance than his predecessor. Perhaps he will surprise us, and all those lines and dots on the tactics board will come to represent something significant. Is there a touch of the Rolf Harris about him? Is he gently humouring us and laying down the challenge: can you see what it is yet?
One suspects Capello has not been amused by an almost microscopic examination of Steven Gerrard's role. He can hardly have anticipated that particular discussion of semantics. This week he was still having to explain that: "He didn't play on the left side. Like a midfielder, yes. But not a left wing. He played right, middle, sometime left." At least he will not have to contend with that little debate now, with Gerrard opting to undergo surgery to repair a groin injury.
Would Capello have played the same system again, anyway? Unlikely. Though he may rue the loss of Gerrard's dynamism, it at least makes matters somewhat more straightforward. It should encourage England to generate more width, with a midfield comprising Frank Lampard in the centre, David Beckham and Joe Cole or Stewart Downing on the flanks and Gareth Barry as the holding player.
Beckham appears a given because, unless he is fooling us all, it looks as though Capello is convinced that the brightest body in the Galaxy will continue to defy the star treks his current employment necessitates.
"In his last game he ran a lot and physically I think he was good, but he does travel a lot," said Capello, who, not for the first time, could not resist some verbal sparring with the media. "It's interesting. When I didn't call him up for the first match there was massive uproar inthe papers [was there?]. Now you are saying I shouldn't call him up?"
What is curious about Capello is his perseverance with Beckham, rather than examining those, such as David Bentley, who are manifestly the international future rather than ghosts of England past. He can hardly claim he is unaware of the attributes of the former England captain who played under him at Real Madrid, yet Beckham has started three games, Bentley only one.
The Italian blows curiously cold on some players. It will be fascinating to observe, for instance, if Michael Owen is considered for a place in the starting line-up after recent goals for Newcastle, together with Dean Ashton, particularly given the dearth of world-class strikers in this country. Yet Capello denies that some are A-listers who will always gain admission to his club.
"Untouchable does not exist," he said. "Not the captain, not the vice-captain, no one player is untouchable." Frankly, he could have fooled us.
It may do England no harm at all to be deemed no longer the alpha males of the qualifying pack. Remember, we made similar observations at the start of Sven Goran Eriksson's regime in August 2001 after an unflattering friendly defeat by Holland.
That was followed, 17 days later, by the annihilation of Germany in Munich. Eriksson banked a lot of credit that day, as would Capello with victory over Slaven Bilic's Croatia team. In the short term, at least, it prevented a run on the bank of goodwill when times were tough.
Whatever his achievements at club level, Capello is now discovering the downside of international coaching. He conceded:"It is a different job because I am used to training every day with my squad. It is not too easy to implement formations and tactics. I am happy I can work for a week with the players now."
He paused, and added: "The most incredible thing is the journalists, and every day I find five or six pages of football in England." But, he was reminded, there were three specialist sports newspapers in Italy. "But here is different," he said. "It is more intense." As his predecessors would attest, he hasn't read the half of it yet. Anything but a comprehensive defeat of Andorra, followed by the minimum of a draw in Zagreb, and he soon will.
Is there light at the end of the 2012 tunnel, or is it a train?
As I travelled to Soho Square for Fabio Capello's media briefing on Wednesday, my Bakerloo Line train came to a screeching halt. The din of a system which chucked out heat rather than cold air on an already warm day meant that the packed carriage of passengers, desperately fanning themselves, couldn't hear the crackling PA announcement from the driver. Thankfully, it turned out that he wasn't asking us to evacuate as quickly as possible. The problem was "a defective train ahead".
But as we were eventuallyled out and offered water by Underground staff, the underlying feeling of Londoners and foreign visitors alike was: "How can the city run an Olympics when it can't even get its trains to run efficiently?"
No wonder the politicians prefer to distract us with two great irrelevancies: the prospect of a Great Britain football team (a non-starter – and who would give a damn about such a team anyway in what will be a European Championship year?); and that post-Olympic game show Which Gongs For Whom? (should not knighthoods and damehoods be confined to real giants of their sport, whose service to it extendsover a significant period?)
Make no mistake. The warm glow of achievement in Beijing will quickly dissipate. The glory will turn to gloom-mongering, particularly after last Sunday's curiously choreographed hand-over. Cynics will be inventing new Olympic disciplines, from Tube driver-picketing to bus-queueing, knife-fending, gum-chucking and graffiti-spraying.
And, in more serious vein, how long will it be before the question begins to be asked, in the wake of the Wembley Stadium débâcle: will it be ready in time? And how much over budget?
Boris may not have dropped the Olympic flag at the handover, Team GB's medallists have created a new mood of pride, and there is a real desire that the Games should succeed.
But now the real examination of London's competence to stage them begins, and there are so many ways in which the project can be derailed.Reuse content