James Lawton: Capello's message to his chosen 23: sentimentality will win England nothing

The consequences will be noted by every England player. They know now that Capello believes there is only one place to live a football career. It is in the day, the moment

Having virtually anointed Theo Walcott less than two years ago, Fabio Capello yesterday cast him aside even more briskly than he stripped the captaincy from John Terry.

Who said the hard edge of Il Capo might just be softening, even crumbling a little, under the weight of recent controversies?

The latest evidence is quite to the contrary, suggesting as it does that England's coach may be one of the least easily distracted – and sentimental – individuals on the football planet.

He ended his Walcott project, the one that started so gloriously in Zagreb when the Arsenal winger devastated England's nemesis Croatia and provided unstoppable momentum to the qualifying campaign, for the reason that you have to believe is the key to his competitive personality. He put aside all speculation about the potential of Walcott to make an impact in South Africa, the theoretical impact of his demoralising speed, and asked the hardest question a coach ever asks a player.

It is the one that goes, "What did you do for me today, son?"

Capello weighed the answers produced by Walcott in England's last two warm-up games and concluded that it simply wasn't good enough. He did not want a flash or two of penetration, more evidence that at times he could fly by a full-back as though he didn't exist.

No, he wanted a sense that Walcott had truly faced up to the challenge of first getting on the plane to South Africa, then making the trip worthwhile. When he did not get it, the thumbs-down sign came as dispassionately as any delivered from the emperor's box in the Coliseum and Walcott, who has always been tomorrow's boy, was suddenly yesterday's casualty.

This is not the hardest decision ever made by an England manager, not remotely – the prize for that will always surely be the exclusion of a truly great player, Jimmy Greaves, from the final stages of the 1966 World Cup. But it did underline one of the reasons why so many in English football have been tempted to believe that in Capello the national team has, for the first time in more than a decade, acquired a leader who is prepared to constantly update his appreciation of his best resources.

This was hardly the style of England in the last three World Cup campaigns. Glenn Hoddle was slow to recognise the instant value of Michael Owen's speed and striking ability and the need for him to build up some serious playing time in the company of Alan Shearer. Sven Goran Eriksson took a half-fit David Beckham and Owen to the Far East, and left himself woefully under-strength up front in Germany four years ago, when Wayne Rooney was asked to carry a huge burden while plainly hampered by injury.

It is true that Capello has been obliged to take risks with Ledley King and, maybe, Gareth Barry, but here there is a strong sense that he is operating at the limits of available strength.

If there was any doubt about this it was surely expunged when he went in to the past and called up Jamie Carragher and, unavailingly, Paul Scholes. The same might be said of Capello's decision yesterday to retain Michael Carrick, a player who seemed to have made a bonfire of his hopes against Mexico last week. Carrick's undoubted ability was obscured by a season of, at times, dire under-performance for Manchester United, but in this case it seems that Capello felt bereft of the options presented in Walcott's position.

What Capello appears to be saying so clearly with the dropping of Walcott is that he will operate whenever he can in the belief that he is picking players who have proved to him that they have the competitive character to survive at the highest level of the game and under the heaviest pressure they will ever face – and that when it comes to final selection he will consider only those he believes have passed the essential tests.

Plainly, Walcott failed the ones set him in the last week or so while Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips – players who for some of us lack the kind of clean and dynamic impact promised by Walcott, and the also discarded Adam Johnson on their better days – offered evidence of superior will as Capello came to make his decisions.

Lennon and Wright-Phillips looked like men who knew they had everything to fight for amid the chaos of the weekend's action against Japan. Walcott, in Capello's eyes perhaps, had more the bearing of someone who believed that he had a little time, and a little credit, to spare.

The consequences will surely be noted by every England player who heads off for the training field on the highveld tomorrow. They know now, if they didn't before, that they are subject to the analysis of a man who plainly believes that there is only one place to live a football career. It is in the day, the moment.

England's moment of maximum opportunity came eight years ago on a hot afternoon in Japan when Brazil, who at times looked like a parody of their great tradition, were reduced to 10 men in the second half. The World Cup final was two games away and the obligation facing England was to apply a little weight and a little creativity in attack. Instead, they failed to muster a serious shot on goal and while Eriksson sat mostly impassively, the young Joe Cole stayed on the bench and fretted.

The memory is made more vivid now by Capello's decision to offer the Chelsea player the chance to finally treat an open wound. It is, perhaps, another piece of evidence that England go to South Africa with a heightened sense that their destiny is being shaped by the most rigorous attention to the important matter of who most wants to succeed.

Some may see a touch of cruelty in the sidelining of Theo Walcott. For Fabio Capello, though, it was nothing to do with brutality. It was simply about what he is paid to do: it was deciding who is a winner and who is a loser, not tomorrow, but today.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick