Rio Ferdinand is the firm favourite to claim the England captaincy on a permanent basis. Fabio Capello has been deeply impressed with the Manchester United defender's performances since making him the surprise choice to lead his country against France last month. The England manager is even understood to have told friends he regards the 29-year-old as the best centre-back in the world.
Capello has said he will have his long-term captain in place by the time England play their first match of next season, the friendly against the Czech Republic on 20 August. John Terry still has an expectation of getting his chance to prove that he is a serious candidate – possibly against America or Trinidad & Tobago in the end-of-season friendlies. However, Ferdinand is favourite to keep the role.
There was genuine surprise when Capello chose Ferdinand in Paris last month, yet the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson selected him to lead United against Barcelona on Wednesday, in the absence of Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, will have done him no harm. Nor will his resolute performance. Speaking after the game, Ferdinand said that he was proud to captain the team but that the priority was that United ended the season with some silverware.
"Whenever I pull that armband on it is a proud moment for me and my family because of the long line of illustrious people who have worn it before me," said Ferdinand. "But all that is diminished if we aren't successful in that time. Success as a team is paramount. Winning the League and then to win the Champions League is what I want to round off the season. You don't set out in your career, or at the start of every season, for personal accolades. You set out to achieve things as a team."
That Ferdinand will do, if his national boss is an accurate tipster. Capello, speaking to Marca, the Spanish sports newspaper, yesterday said he thought United were slight favourites to win the Champions League. "They are in an ideal position," he said.
Capello also said he believed David Beckham can play on until the 2010 World Cup – if he takes care of his fitness. "He played in the last game, he did well against France, and I sometimes go to see him in Los Angeles," said Capello.
He added, of a player who will be 33 next month, and 35 by the time the 2010 World Cup opens in South Africa: "It depends, there are players who at 33 or 34 take good care of themselves, they understand that the body is not as it was and they take more care. It depends a lot on that."
Capello said he felt he was "becoming more integrated every day" but admitted he was taking time to adjust to international management after a career in the club game. "It's all new for me. I was used to working daily with clubs and now it's very different," he said. "At the moment I have only had the opportunity to train for five days. Only five days."
How did he fill the time? "I read a lot, I travel a lot and I see a lot of football." That Capello still has some way to go before being integrated was underlined when he claimed Rafael Benitez and Juande Ramos had revolutionised the English game because, at Liverpool and Spurs respectively, "They have implanted this new philosophy, a new touch system, not only long balls, so that is good for English football."
This suggests either Capello is unaware that several clubs, notably Arsenal and Manchester United, have eschewed the long ball for years, or he was pandering to a local audience – both Benitez and Ramos are Spanish. Capello claimed his English was fast developing, but added he would continue to speak through an interpreter to the media to avoid misunderstandings. "If you get a word wrong it can make big headlines," he explained. "That happened to me in Spain after a Real Madrid-Atletico match, when I wanted to refer to Fernando Torres and asked the Madrid press officer how to say something and he replied 'tramposo' [cheat]. That wasn't exactly what I wanted to say and it caused a tremendous scandal."
Capello praised the Premier League, but admitted its foreign accent was problematic. "Some really good football is being played in England. At the moment it is the best league [in Europe]. But we have only 38 per cent of the players available to England." Of the national team he added: "We have a good team, but we have to work a little so that everyone understands what I want.
"We are not thinking about [the 2010 World Cup] at the moment, we have to go step by step. I told the players after the defeat against France that I was happy because I had seen them take a step forward. Now we have two friendlies; we'll have to see if I have all of my players available."
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