James Lawton: Italian sends message that he is ready to fight

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The Independent Online

Win, lose or draw, Fabio Capello can walk out of the Olympic Stadium here tonight armed with one satisfaction.

Less than a year into a job which has so often been described, usually for the wrong reasons, as impossible, the England manager has done more than prove that with a decent level of co-operation from the Premier League he can make a real team, one whose growth can be measured from game to game.

He has also shown that when that help from the league is less than decent, when it is precisely the opposite and the big clubs display an arrogant dismissal of everything but their own short-term interests, he isn't going to roll over in the fashion of predecessors like Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren.

He is going to highlight whenever possible his rights – and those of the national game he has been hired to renovate.

Some believe he fired a blank when he demanded that Liverpool's Steven Gerrard make a 200-mile trek to have the injury so airily announced on the club's website verified by the England medical staff. He did nothing of the sort. He drew a line against what in the past has been a shameless contempt for the cause of England. It happened that Gerrard indeed had an injury, but Capello's order also carried a warning.

There will be other times when a club manager, a Benitez or Scolari, a Wenger or Ferguson, believe they are entitled to hand one of their key players a rest when England go off to play a "meaningless" friendly. But maybe now they will think twice if the risk is not suspicion but the medically confirmed fact that they care nothing for the wider interests of the football culture, such as it is with its solitary 42-year-old World Cup triumph, from where they draw their fame and their living.

What Capello has established this week might just be of an importance that dwarfs all else in the interminable argument of club and country.

He has said that he cares little for the contention that as the paymaster of the players, the league has the right to give or take them away whenever its suits them. Still less is he moved by the evidence that so many fans are more concerned about the fate of their clubs than their national team. Most clearly, he has declared that he will prosecute his job with all the means at his disposal and in the process he will shed light on its difficulties, and the problems beyond his control.

He will not be whining, as so many of his predecessors have, about media attention, the pressure on results. He knows such demands are implicit in the job. He will be simply saying, as Sir Alf Ramsey did when he cleared away archaic committee selection and all other intrusions into the work of a professional, "Give me the tools and I will do the job."

He cannot guarantee success, of course, no more than Ramsey. But he can isolate the factors that work so relentlessly against his chances. He can invite their close inspection.

The expression that yesterday he wore here at times, and which so perfectly matched this city's matchless talent for producing days of glowering darkness and foreboding, was certainly a deterrent against any cheery questions about his opportunity for "experiment" tonight in the absence of such cornerstone performers as Gerrard and Ferdinand, Rooney and Lampard.

Capello is angry about his decimated force not because it makes so unlikely some kind of prestige victory over a football nation with a tradition of international success, which, when you take away the 1966 World Cup defeat and a freakish debacle in qualifying in Munich seven years ago, is so vastly superior.

He is inflamed by the lost opportunity to underpin the brilliant progress made in the recent run of qualifying games. He doesn't do experimental games. He works from match to match, competitive or friendly, from fundamental to fundamental and already we have seen the impact this has brought on the international performances of such as Rooney and Gerrard and Lampard.

Capello knows all about the subsidiary, covering players and is well enough aware that there will be no divine shafts of revelation from the supporting cast. As any front rank manager is obliged to do, he has picked out his important players and craves only the opportunity to exploit every second that is available to him in their company.

The Premier League case on this occasion is that circumstances have simply worked against Capello. Eriksson and McClaren would no doubt have accepted such a suggestion. They would not have pushed for proof and, in the process, brought an entirely new edge to the debate.

The fear is that in the long term Capello cannot win the argument, so far gone is the Premier League's priority of self-interest. And who would care?

For the moment, no doubt, there is Fabio Capello – and with some passion. On his first assignment in English football he reassured one of the heroes of '66. "Charlton," he said to Sir Bobby, "it is my wish to take England to the World Cup final in South Africa." This week he proved that at the very least he is ready to fight. For something, this is, that in more innocent days was the dream of a whole football nation.

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