England emerge from 48 hours of feuds – with one day left to fix side

Question over defence is settled as Upson is named, but Defoe may yet start up front

Sam Wallace
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:52

With four simple words, Fabio Capello swiftly reasserted his authority over his most errant senior player last night. "A very big mistake," was how he described John Terry's attempt to challenge him in public – he did not even go that far when he sacked the player from the captaincy in February.

So ended an extraordinary 48 hours in the life of the national team yesterday, one that began with Terry's ill-fated attempt to strike at a wounded Capello in his press conference on Sunday. That was Terry's revenge for his humiliating demotion four months earlier but no sooner had he promised to take on Capello in Sunday night's team meeting then his fellow England squad members were reacting in dismay.

Yesterday morning, the Football Association moved to smooth over talk of a rift in the camp by enlisting Frank Lampard to face the media. Having been given the ultimate hospital pass, he did his best to defend his long-time Chelsea club-mate. Credulous television networks ran stories yesterday denying reports in The Independent and other newspapers that Terry was isolated in the camp, but last night Capello confirmed the divide with his withering verdict on his former captain

"I read yesterday that John Terry said this [about taking on Capello]," Capello said. "I don't understand why he doesn't speak with me. You have to speak privately. This is the big mistake; this is a very big mistake."

The 64-year-old tough guy of Italian football may find himself in a corner against Slovenia in England's last group game tomorrow. He may even find himself out the World Cup finals by Thursday morning – but he has not abandoned his principle that any rebellious player must be shoved back in line.

Even on Sunday, when Terry promised to take on Capello and tell him a few truths even if it "upset" him, the defender was warned not to speak out in that evening's meeting. For a man who had earlier outlined his views with such passion he proved surprisingly easy to persuade. Last night, in an interview with ITV, Capello mocked Terry's reluctance to take him on publicly: "Every time we have a meeting I ask the captain, problems? You want to say something? Never."

Terry will play tomorrow alongside Matthew Upson in the centre of the defence but you have to wonder whether he will consider his long-term international future should the Italian decide to stay in the job beyond this tournament. Given the last two performances, and the signs of twitchiness emanating from certain elements of the FA high command, it is debatable whether the Italian will stay.

Having nailed the Terry question last night Capello now has one day to persuade his team to loosen up and play the way he is convinced they can. In private he has compared the fear and pressure which some of the team have felt at the World Cup to the problems he had with some of his Real Madrid players when he returned to the club in 2006.

Madrid's rivals Barcelona had won back-to-back titles with the great Ronaldinho team and Capello thought then that Barcelona's reputation alone was inhibiting some of the Madrid players. He turned that situation around and he is hoping that he can do the same tomorrow.

If anything, Capello and his staff are worried that the England players are too quiet. It was that which persuaded him to relax his rules on alcohol after the Algeria game and has seen them give the players more leeway in the following days. The staff recognise that Terry can be a problem but having brought him to heel they also feel that the episode might galvanise players who seem to struggle with the burden of international football.

While Upson and Terry is the fifth central defensive combination in the five full internationals that England have played since the squad was announced last month, they do have some experience together. They have played together four times under Capello including the 5-1 win over Croatia and the friendly victory over Slovenia. No-one would deny that Upson deserves his chance.

More difficult to understand is why Capello seems to be leaning towards playing Jermain Defoe, who scored against Slovenia in that September friendly, alongside Wayne Rooney. It is early days yet, and the signs that Capello puts out are notoriously hard to read, but it reads like another snub for Peter Crouch.

There are wider questions too about what the next 48 hours will bring. No-one at the FA is contemplating failure at the moment but should it come, the implications will be huge. It is hard to see how Capello could maintain the same private life he enjoys now with his wife in London in the face of such public outrage over the team's performance. He would face another gruelling qualification campaign for Euro 2012 with no guarantees that his team would not inexplicably choke again should they reach the finals.

It is a personal view that Capello's time with England will come to an end this summer regardless of whether they progress tomorrow. He has seen this side close up in a tournament and it has not been pretty. Their performances have suggested that when it comes to the big stage they are ill-equipped to deal with pressure.

Of course that may well change tomorrow but even if Capello bows out with elimination to Slovenia at least he can say that it was not player power that was his downfall. Unlike so many of his predecessors he took on one of the squad's loudest, most self-serving voices and, having done so, definitively won the argument.

Making a case for the defence: Terry v Upson and Ferdinand

*Terry and Upson

Matthew Upson, John Terry's likely centre-back partner for Wednesday's game against Slovenia has started six games with Terry under Fabio Capello, since a 2-1 win over Germany in Berlin in November 2008 - both defenders scored in the game. Upson started Capello's very first game in charge alongside Rio Ferdinand as the Three Lions beat Switzerland 2-1 in February 2008.

Played 6
Won 6
Drawn 0
Lost 0
Clean sheets 2
Conceded 4

*Terry and Ferdinand

Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, England's first-choice defensive pairing have started only two more games at the back than Terry and Upson under Capello, making only eight starts together in the Italian's 26 games as England manager. Ferdinand has represented his country just twice this year due to knee ligament and back injuries.

Played 8
Won 4
Drawn 2
Lost 2
Clean sheets 2
Conceded 8

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