Only victory can dispel sense of decay from stale England regime
Three points needed in Cardiff today if under-fire manager is to stem erosion of authority
If you looked hard there were enough inconsistencies in Fabio Capello's testimony yesterday to pull the whole thing apart. Alternatively you could weigh up the sincerity of his grudging apology to Rio Ferdinand over the whole captaincy debacle and find it rather superficial. You could ask why it is that Capello seems to wander blithely into an inquisition such as yesterday's without any hint of preparation.
Or you could save time and come to the conclusion that, in the case of the captaincy issue, perhaps when it comes to the England job as a whole, Capello does not give a damn what anyone thinks: be it his players, the fans, the Football Association or the press.
That might be regarded as a strength. His belligerence was hardly a weakness during his glittering career as a club manager at some of the most demanding and highly political clubs in Europe. There is probably something to be said for an England manager who does not concern himself too much with the scrutiny of his every decision. But yesterday his vagueness did not feel like a strength.
When it came to picking over the exact details of a messy fortnight in the reign of the England manager – one in which he had reversed arguably the biggest decision of his time in the job to give back John Terry the captaincy – Capello just did not have the grasp of the detail to do it properly. His mastery of the English language is patchy. He just blustered through the questions about his disposal of Ferdinand.
He tried to claim that he made the decision to make Terry the permanent captain in place of Ferdinand when he heard that the Manchester United defender was likely to be out for the rest of the season. In fact he had already told reporters that Terry was back in the job for good on 14 March, three days before United's Sir Alex Ferguson revealed that the player had such a serious calf injury. His plan to explain his decision to Ferdinand in the directors' box at Old Trafford just sounded plain eccentric.
But not only did Capello regard this public forum as a logical way of conducting a delicate conversation, he became annoyed when it was so much as suggested to him that there might have been a more appropriate alternative.
Capello regards today's Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales in Cardiff as the key to it all. Win this, and the world moves on. To an extent he is right and all great managers depend on the restorative effect of a win to solve a problem. A year ago he would have been excused anything that looked like a blunder because he had taken England to the World Cup in such style. But a year ago he was not making these kind of errors.
Even for those of us who admire Capello's disdain for approval and his unwillingness to engage in facile public relations, yesterday he seemed haphazard and off-the-cuff. Capello was unprepared for the kind of detailed enquiry that he faced. Would Ferguson have allowed himself to look so exposed?
So it felt inevitable when towards the end of his briefing, Capello was asked he felt he was still the right man for the job. "Yes, absolutely. Do you?" he said. "Absolutely. Absolutely. More pressure? No. About the captaincy, for me, the most important thing is to be focused on the games. It's my job. To go around and see the games. To monitor the players. To do different things. Probably, as a club manager, it was my job to be focused on the players. For me, this moment is the same as before."
But the question remains: is Capello still up for this? His employers at the FA have taken the view over the captaincy saga that to interfere at all would be to undermine their manager and there must have been times over the last two weeks when they wondered if that was the right call. It has not looked good. Not that Capello seems to have noticed.
Today he has key decisions to make – the kind that he has habitually got right over a successful career. He looks to be leaning towards playing Darren Bent alongside Wayne Rooney in his forward line having admitted that Andy Carroll is not fit enough to start the game. He has to choose a suitable central-defensive partner for Terry from Phil Jagielka, Michael Dawson and Joleon Lescott. He said yesterday that Jack Wilshere will start, but who plays alongside him?
Big changes are taking place in this England team. Who would have thought 18 months ago that Frank Lampard would be competing for the right to play alongside Wilshere? Ferdinand's injury problems also mean there is a place at centre-half up for grabs for the first time since Terry edged out Sol Campbell seven years ago. The England team is changing and by the time they finish this Euro 2012 qualification campaign it could well be a very different side.
As for Capello, at times it is difficult to tell what he thinks. Terry said yesterday that he did not believe that the drive of the manager once lauded for his austere mode of management had not changed. "There's a determination from him. It's been there on the training pitch this week," Terry said. "I've read that he doesn't really care, but it's the complete opposite: he's lost his rag in training a couple of times. Even in fairly light sessions when he's been cheesed off when we haven't done what he's asked. That hunger from him rubs off on the players."
On the question of whether Capello's departure after Euro 2012 – providing England qualify – is having an effect, Terry made a good point. "I know players at Chelsea with a year left on their deals. Who knows what could happen? He's said he's going to leave but, as players, you learn to deal with things like that. People leave, whether they're managers or players. It's something in the environment you deal with."
Terry is now, however, a Capello ally again. Not all the players feel the same way. An England manager can grow stale in the job much quicker than at a club where there is greater capacity for immediate change. Unfortunately, stale is how it felt yesterday with Capello, a weary manager uninterested in having to explain the finer details of an issue he no longer seemed to care about. If indeed he ever did.
Ultimately it will be results that define Capello. Win today and the problems go away until the next Euro 2012 qualifier at Wembley against Switzerland on 4 June. But a defeat or even a draw today would make that Switzerland game a defining match. Two bad results and Capello may not stay in the job through the summer. The thought occurred yesterday that, judging by his manner, he may not judge that too bad a thing.
Wales v England: Three key confrontations
Aaron Ramsey v Jack Wilshere
During Ramsey's year-long spell out of the Arsenal team, he was replaced as the great young hope of Arsène Wenger's midfield by Jack Wilshere. The English teenager has grown in Ramsey's absence, showing a remarkable maturity and intelligence on every stage available. Today is a chance, however, for Ramsey to re-assert his seniority by stemming the flow of Wilshere's distribution and interrupting his forward bursts.
Ashley Williams v Wayne Rooney
Rated by many to be the best centre-back outside the top flight, Williams has been crucial to Swansea's success this season. Today he will face an opponent from a different category, though. Rooney seems to have re-discovered his genius in recent weeks, and will surely drift behind Darren Bent today as he does behind Javier Hernandez for Manchester United, hoping to drag Williams with him as he goes.
Craig Bellamy v Glen Johnson
With Gareth Bale injured, Wales are expected to train their next quickest, most dangerous player on England's weak point. Bellamy is playing in the Championship this season but he has years of Premier League experience, and all the pace and nous required to get in behind Johnson and cause him problems. Moreover, as the squad's senior player, Bellamy will be desperate to set an example to his team-mates.
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