Fabio Capello does not give too much away in his post-match press briefings conducted off the main press theatre at Wembley, in a small ante-chamber that looks like it was originally built as a caretakers' storeroom. Generally speaking, Capello is straining to get away from his final assignment of the night, long after he has done his turn with broadcasters from all over the world, as well as the international press.
It is in those moments, usually past 11pm on a match night, often more than an hour after the game has finished, that you see the stress of being an England manager even on a man as experienced as Capello. His grasp of English is shot to bits, frazzled by the adrenaline that is still pumping, and, with newspaper reporters crowded around him, this diminutive 65-year-old can look quite vulnerable. Although he never even permits himself to loosen the knot of his Football Association tie.
Often, his capacity to give voice to his feelings and opinions in cogent English can be imprecise, bordering on non-existent. In short, he looks like a man in need of a stiff drink. But on Tuesday, having watched his England team take another step backward with a hesitant, unconvincing performance against Wales, Capello gave an insight into his team that he had hitherto kept private. His confession that he knew that something was wrong when he watched his players in the warm-up on Tuesday was a remarkable declaration to make.
When he woke up yesterday morning, Capello may have regretted being quite so frank. It was honest, admirably so, but it also revealed the impotency of the football manager. The old saying about a manager's influence ending once his players cross the white line was never so true, although that was always supposed to relate to the start of the game rather than the warm-up.
The nature of Capello's disclosure did not play into his tabloid persona as an "ogre", who shouts at his players for taking throw-ins the wrong way, as he had done during Monday's training session. More it confirmed that sometimes he is as helpless as the rest of us in Wembley Stadium, or those watching on television at home, to explain why a perfectly decent bunch of Premier League footballers perform so poorly.
Where does Capello's confession that his players approached this game in the wrong fashion leave him? It leaves him mulling over his biggest gamble yet as England manager. Whether to abandon the last members of the golden generation and place his faith in the young players on the fringe of the first team, many of whom he would not have recognised before last summer's World Cup finals.
That is not to say that the likes of John Terry and Ashley Cole are about to be tipped overboard or, it goes without saying, Wayne Rooney. But the mood in the Capello camp was that once qualification is in the bag, and they hope it will be secured against Montenegro in Podgorica next month, then they will do all they can to give the young ones a chance.
Of course, that is easy to say when you have just slumped to another poor performance at home to the 117th-ranked team in the world, quite another when you are going through the squad list on the eve of its submission to Uefa and preparing to put a line through Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry's names. Who are these young players that will make up the team alongside the likes of Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Terry, Cole and Joe Hart? Well, Jack Wilshere for one, although he is already struggling with that difficult second season after his breakthrough year. Then Ashley Young, Theo Walcott, Stewart Downing and perhaps even Scott Parker. None of them, except maybe Walcott, could be classed as young but none have before been central figures for England at a major tournament.
The next tier is Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill – who have taken the first step. And after that come the unproven. The likes of Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley, Andy Carroll, Danny Welbeck, Jordan Henderson, Kyle Walker, Kieran Gibbs and Frankie Fielding. A coach's natural conservatism would suggest that you can take a handful of those players but to pick a squad that included all of them would be some leap in the dark.
The instinct is that Capello will season his choices with players with more experience at Premier League level, if not as much at international level, such as James Milner, Adam Johnson, Tom Huddlestone, Darren Bent and Leighton Baines. Either way, Euro 2012, providing England make it there, would appear to be the bridge between the future and the past. Capello has to choose which way he wants to go.
This time next year the England team will undoubtedly look very different. The likes of Lampard, Gerrard, Cole, Ferdinand – and maybe even Terry – could well have called it a day. If Euro 2012 is deemed to be a failure then it would not be hard to imagine many looking back on the tournament and wondering why some of those players were not phased out before rather than after.
The last days of an England manager's reign do cause the incumbent to behave in an unpredictable manner. At the 2006 World Cup, Sven-Goran Eriksson launched Michael Carrick as a holding midfielder in his penultimate game in charge and then dropped him for his last. He also tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade David Beckham to play right-back. Steve McClaren decided that Scott Carson was the country's best goalkeeper for his most important – and, it turned out, last – game in charge of England.
As the end-game begins for Capello, most likely once Euro 2012 qualification is ensured, we will start to see him unfettered by the usual protocols. It will dawn on him that he will never have to manage these players again beyond July and, accordingly, he will start to behave like a man with nothing to lose. Judging by Tuesday's briefing he is already feeling that way and the beneficiaries will be the young players who, one year earlier, Capello never even knew he had.
Trio in trouble: Three players Capello may look to phase out
Club: Manchester City
Debut: v Ukraine (h), May 2000
Club: Manchester United
Debut: v Cameroon (h), November 1997
Debut: v Belgium (h), October 1999Reuse content