Cup romance lures Capello to hasten start of England affair

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The Independent Football

Fabio Capello is arriving early to start his job as England manager and is expected to watch his first English games in person this weekend.

The Independent understands the Italian is scheduled to arrive in London tomorrow and is considering watching two FA Cup ties over the weekend. The 61-year-old had been due to start officially on Monday but it seems that the lure of the FA Cup third round was too much for him. The Football Association is privately looking into a travel schedule that would involve Capello watching Aston Villa against Manchester United tomorrow at 5.15pm and then another game on Sunday possibly Luton Town against Liverpool at Kenilworth Road.

Capello's arrival in London coincides with the return to England of David Beckham, who started training at Arsenal's Hertfordshire training ground on Wednesday. The former England captain has been doing gym work so far under the supervision of Arsenal's head physiotherapist Gary Lewin, who also works for the England team and has been instrumental in setting up Beckham's stay at the club.

Beckham is not expected to train with the Arsenal first team, who have had the last two days off, until he has worked on his fitness. However, Beckham will also be within easy driving distance for Capello and his FA chauffeur should the new England manager wish to check on the player. Capello's journey of discovery in English football will start with the FA Cup and could take in as many as 15 games in less than a month before he names his first squad on 1 February.

The only interruption in his odyssey around the Premier League will be the FA's fixtures meeting in Zagreb on 16 January to agree the fixtures for the 2010 World Cup qualifying with their Group Six opponents. The priority will be to avoid playing Kazakhstan away during the early part of the season when the former Soviet Union republic is still uncomfortably humid. England play a friendly against France in Paris on 26 March.

Should he make it to Villa Park tomorrow, Capello will be able to watch first-hand the young player who has already impressed him and his team of assistants. Gabriel Agbonlahor has especially caught the eye of Capello and should be in the Italian's first England squad to face Switzerland on 6 February. The Aston Villa winger has been picked out by Capello's right-hand man Franco Baldini, his most influential adviser.

The beauty of a packed January programme for Capello is that he will be able to watch most of his potential England players more than once before picking out those he wants for the first squad. The Carling Cup semi-final first legs next week involving Chelsea, Everton, Arsenal and Tottenham will mean that should he make it to Villa Park and Kenilworth Road the England manager will have seen all the "big four" play live within five days.

Capello's first four weeks in the job will be scrutinised as to which games he attends and, by extension, which players he is watching. Sven Goran Eriksson, would go to so many games that the FA made his itinerary a matter of public record so the Swede was at least seen to be doing something for his salary. While Eriksson would often watch games with his assistant Tord Grip, Capello is likely to travel alone once he has settled into the job.

He will use his back-room staff, Baldini, Italo Galbiati and even fitness coach Massimo Neri to scout other matches. While Capello's most telling evidence as regards his long-term intentions will be his first XI to play Switzerland, it will be instructive to see which young players are given their first place in an England squad and who gets left out.

It is understood that the two senior players about whom the Capello camp have major doubts are Michael Owen and the goalkeeper Paul Robinson. Owen has been in the side for almost 10 years and is only nine goals from equalling Sir Bobby Charlton's 49-goal England record, but the new regime do not seem him as a first-team fixture in the same way Eriksson and Steve McClaren, Capello's immediate predecessor, did. Owen's injury problems and a tendency to come short for the ball, instead of playing on the shoulder of the last defender, have made him less potent in recent years.

Dropped for the disastrous Euro 2008 qualifying defeat to Croatia in November, Robinson must have thought that Scott Carson's calamitous error for Niko Kranjcar's opening goal would have opened the door to him again. However, he has not had the most comfortable of times over the Christmas period, including conceding four at home to Reading on 29 December. Hardly benefiting from a flustered Tottenham defence, Robinson has looked very hesitant coming to collect crosses.

Agbonlahor has never been named in an England senior squad before, but his Aston Villa team-mate Ashley Young has already been capped, as have Theo Walcott and David Bentley. Another potential graduate from the England Under-21s is Tom Huddlestone, who has impressed when picked by Juande Ramos at Tottenham this season. Nedum Onuoha has broken into the Manchester City team at right-back and looks a good prospect with 13 caps at Under-21 level.

If he recovers in time from an abdominal injury, City's Michael Johnson is another possible new addition to the England squad. He is one of only very few young Englishman to emerge in the Premier League this season and hold down a regular starting place. His 20-year-old team-mate, the goalkeeper Joe Hart, has achieved the same. But other than Bolton's Danny Guthrie, on loan from Liverpool, and Derby's Giles Barnes, there are few others.

There is unlikely to be a copy lying around in his Soho Square office but Capello may want to look at the Professional Footballers' Association's recent report into the decline of English players in the Premier League over the last 16 years. Last season just 191 of the 498 players who started a Premier League game were English, compared with 363 out of 511 in the league's first season that started in 1992.

Capello's opening nights

Wednesday 6 February: England v Switzerland

Wednesday 26 March: France v England

Capello's England: Who will be favoured and who may be frozen out by Don Fabio

The certainties

The players who should form the core of Capello's first squad at the very least. Beckham is not expected to be a certainty beyond 6 February but he will be given his big day against Switzerland to celebrate the 100th cap.

David Beckham 32 years, LA Galaxy

Rio Ferdinand 29, Manchester United

Frank Lampard 29, Chelsea

Ashley Cole 27, Chelsea

Steven Gerrard 27, Liverpool

John Terry 27, Chelsea

Gareth Barry 26, Aston Villa

Joe Cole 26, Chelsea

Peter Crouch 26, Liverpool

Owen Hargreaves 26, Manchester United

Scott Carson 22, Aston Villa

Wayne Rooney 22, Manchester United

Micah Richards 19, Manchester City

The young contenders

Some of them have already been capped, but these are the young ones (Green and Hart relatively so for goalkeepers) who could force their way in this season.

Robert Green 27, West Ham

Leighton Baines 23, Everton

David Bentley 23, Blackburn

Ashley Young 22, Aston Villa

Gabriel Agbonlahor 21, Aston Villa

Matt Derbyshire 21, Blackburn

Tom Huddlestone 21, Tottenham

James Milner 21, Newcastle

Nedum Onuoha 21, Man City

Steven Taylor 21, Newcastle

Joe Hart 20, Man City

Michael Johnson 19, Man City

James Vaughan 19, Everton

Theo Walcott 18, Arsenal

Maverick picks

Who will be Capello's Chris Powell? And can the Home Office rush through a passport for Almunia?

M Almunia 30, Arsenal

Kevin Davies 30, Bolton

Dave Kitson 27, Reading

The endangered list

The big, and not-so-big, names who could find themselves marginalised by Capello.

David James 37, Portsmouth

Gary Neville 32, Manchester United

Michael Owen 28, Newcastle United

Paul Robinson 28, Tottenham

Alan Smith 27, Newcastle United

Darren Bent 23, Tottenham

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