James Lawton: Tevez and Fabregas show why Capello must keep a tight rein on England's children

The manager's approach fuels the hope that England can salvage something from the chasm they have made for themselves
Click to follow

There may yet be a glimmer of light in Camp Despair, a feeling that England might somehow avoid leaving this World Cup not as half crazed anarchists, like the French, or the ineffably sad Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and, just maybe, not a bunch of maladjusted, hopelessly indulged and truculent adolescents.

Hard words, maybe, but you have to suspect that if some of the recent body language of Fabio Capello had taken voice in the rougher idioms of his native Italian the foregoing would sound more like some mild schoolmasterly reproof.

Yet if Capello is enraged by the attitudes and performances that have surfaced within his squad, and not least the impertinence of the deposed captain John Terry to present himself as some kind of Wat Tyler of the England dressing room, he is also defiant in his belief that he is in charge of affairs, however ramshackle they may currently appear.

This certainly fuels the best hope that England can salvage something from the chasm they have made for themselves in recent days.

Certainly only one development more depressing than the wretchedness of the performance in Cape Town against Algeria would have been Capello's agreement to some stomach-churning appeasement of players apparently most disgruntled that their lives had for a few weeks become somewhat regimented, somewhat lacking in the widest possible range of instant gratification.

Instead, Capello said, as some officer of the line might say, they were stuck with their deployment. They were representing their country in a World Cup. It was no small thing, they should understand, and yes the ground rules did include a little sacrifice.

Capello did not have at hand the words of Cesc Fabregas, who made a superb contribution to Spain's brilliant European Championship two years ago despite operating almost entirely from the bench, but they did speak eloquently of the kind of mature and gifted professional that is England's most pressing requirement over the next few days.

In the wake of his exclusion from Spain's first game against Switzerland, Fabregas was asked about the depth of his frustration. Well, that's how the question was framed but what it really wanted to know was whether Fabregas was about to display the hints of rebellion that now festoon Terry and Rooney like war arrows.

No, said Fabregas. It was no chore working for a chance to display his skill at the supreme level of the game. "We came here to play football," he went on. "I will not say I am angry or I do not care about playing. I will go through my anger by doing my best on the training field and proving that I am ready to do my job."

Heavens, you might get the distinct impression that Fabregas is aware that World Cups do not exactly clutter a leading player's life, that every four years they come along not to be endured, like some visit to an ancient aunt, but to be conquered with clear evidence that if you could not win, you at least did everything that was within your power.

Capello might also have been taken with the sentiments of Carlos Tevez before the start of Argentina's campaign. Everyone in club football knows, and not least his current manager Roberto Mancini, that day by day Tevez can have the soothing effect of an impacted molar.

Yet he does seem to get the point of being at the World Cup as he affects the style of a brooding, utterly focused matador while provoking an emotional report of his commitment from Diego Maradona, no less.

The Argentina coach said: "Carlitos came to me and said, 'I don't care where you play me, I want to serve the team.' He said he would play striker, midfield, wing, anywhere. This makes me very happy. It tells me I have a squad of 23."

We have had a rather different picture from Camp Despair, of course. While Terry did give a public plug for the claims of his Chelsea team-mate Joe Cole, for which he received a firm reprimand from Capello yesterday, the burden of his aborted stand for player power was that the coach really ought to ease up on the lads.

The trouble is, no doubt, that until this World Cup campaign easing up the lads was not so much a well explored option but something of an art form.

Sven Goran Eriksson was the master. He was once staggered by the suggestion that it might be an idea to admonish David Beckham for getting himself deliberately booked for strategic reasons, but then most else paled against the green light he gave to the 2006 Wags Jamboree in Baden Baden.

Maybe the quintessence of the Eriksson way, though, came on the occasion of rebellious stirrings over the banishment of Rio Ferdinand in the wake of his failure to submit to a drugs test in 2003.

The most revealing incident came when the coach was having dinner at the team hotel with his senior staff, including the former Chelsea manager Dave Sexton, who once threatened his most talented, and unruly, player Peter Osgood with the possibility that the two of them might settle matters behind a locked door at Stamford Bridge – and not necessarily according to the Queensberry Rules.

Sexton was thus somewhat stunned when, with Eriksson on the point of starting his meal, Beckham appeared in the dining room and waved to the coach, saying that he was required, urgently, in the players' room. Eriksson went, with some urgency.

Some believe that Capello's approach is too stern and that he has pushed his players beyond their limits of fortitude. We can only pray it is not true, not so much for Capello but the integrity of the English footballer.

Zidane should have butted in to save French

Zidane Zidane, France's greatest player, was yesterday quick to deny any part in the tragic-comic collapse of his nation's World Cup challenge.

Yet given his vast prestige, Zidane, who was embraced by the President of the Republic when he returned to Paris after being sent off in the 2006 World Cup final he appeared to hold comfortably in the palm of his hand, might have felt at least a little of the weight of collective responsibility.

Zidane, despite a history of violent reaction to on-field provocation, was the supreme creation of a superb football culture. France had a fine training centre in the forest south of the capital and a flow of breath-taking talent. The French had thought a lot about football and made it a fine expression of the national sporting character, even to the point of rivalling the glory of the great bike race.

So why are they in ruins now? Because for six years Raymond Domenech, who once explained that Robert Pires had not made the team because his astrological sign simply was not favourable, was allowed to coach his way to a complete breakdown of relations with his players. A nudge from "Zizou" you have to believe, might have done the trick.

Eto'o lament shows a star who still cares

Those who fear that the World Cup is losing much of its mystique in the eyes of leading players may be reassured by the reaction of Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o after his team's fatal submission to Denmark on Saturday.

Eto'o was disconsolate that in their sixth World Cup the Indomitable Lions had been unable to make an impact on African soil. It was also a great sadness for anyone who saw their glorious campaign in Italy in 1990, when they beat the holders Argentina in the opening game, albeit after half kicking them to death, and had England by the throat in the quarter-finals before some enterprising, penalty-winning work by Gary Lineker.

"This was a great opportunity," Eto'o sighed before adding, "God is the only one who rules at this moment and he wanted it to turn out like this." Let's hope the big man has a shine for Fabio Capello.