James Lawton: Scholes will surely never play for England again, but where else can Capello turn?

Manchester United started on Sunday with one English player, Scholes

Sunday 23 October 2011 00:29
Scholes has enjoyed a great start to the season
Scholes has enjoyed a great start to the season

With the Thames and a thousand memories, most of them concerning a certain Johnny Haynes, meandering by, Craven Cottage is surely one of the more agreeable football venues on earth. However, it was plainly not something worth mentioning to Fabio Capello this last Sunday afternoon.

The Cottage, it is reasonable to assume, was pretty much his version of hell.

What, after all, was there for him, other than the ordeal of being asked tricky questions about the possibilities of Paul Scholes and Mikel Arteta ever playing for what is left of his England team – and the certainty that his answers would come choking back at him in pidgin English yesterday morning.

There was a time – it was when he folded the tents of his camp on the high veldt with considerable grace under pressure – to applaud Capello's decision to fight on in pursuit of some rescue of a brilliant reputation.

Now though, even for his warmest admirers, who saw his ordeal in South Africa as at least partly the result of the collapsed culture of English football, it is difficult not to believe that he really should have cut his losses, taken the financial hit that his carefully amassed fortune could easily have withstood, and nurse his wounds by the shores of Lake Lugano.

This bleak view was surely put into a much sharper perspective by events at the Cottage.

Manchester United started with one English player, Scholes, who can only have increased Capello's well of sadness the other day when he announced that he now regretted his decision to turn down the England manager's desperate call for him to join the World Cup squad. The other Englishman to appear, eventually, for United was Michael Owen, also over 30, but then of course he has been rejected by Capello for some time, on the grounds that with his speed gone – burned off, some would say, by the demands of his first club, Liverpool, roughly eight years ago – he no longer has the needle sharpness that was once his stock-in-trade.

This was on top of the confirmation that came at the Emirates that Capello was indeed existing in the middle of a waking nightmare, when Theo Walcott – the other member of Arsenal's unusually bulging English starting contingent – reproduced all the qualities, albeit against Blackpool's non-existent defence, the coach believed had deserted him in the build-up to the World Cup.

The Arteta story is a joke, excellent player though he is, while the one of Scholes is nothing less than a football tragedy.

Scholes continues to outlive his generation, still offers both his club and his country the best chance of some old-fashioned, coherent creativity in the middle of the field, a fact that Capello was forced to concede when he made the World Cup overture so late.

As Scholes did what he has most always done on Sunday, drive forward with a splendid directness of thought and perfect delivery of the ball to well-placed team-mates, he could only provoke fresh despair over the wasted years which started after the European Championships of 2004. He could no longer stomach Sven-Goran Eriksson's constant re-shaping of the midfield in order to cater for such celebrities as David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, at the cost of someone who knew more about fashioning a team performance than the rest of the candidates put together.

Yes, it is history now but it carried a terrible relevance to England's, and Capello's, plight as Sir Alex Ferguson decided to keep Michael Carrick on the bench.

United's record in nurturing the best of English football talent was, it is true, distorted by the enforced absence of Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand, but this can have done little to relieve the angst of the England manager. Still echoing in his ears, no doubt, was the manic claim of Arsène Wenger that there are as many foreign players in the Spanish game as England's, a statement palpably at odds with the facts and made especially absurd by Barcelona's gift of the core of their champion team to the Spanish World Cup victory.

Meanwhile some Premier League loyalists were no doubt embracing the tide of spectacle marked by the record gush of 6-0 victories in a season eight days old. What needs to be said, of course, is that such excess could not happen in a league which understands the need to balance the commercial demand for entertainment with some of the rudiments of defensive technique. How is it possible to celebrate a glut of goals in the absence of competent defence? It is to dole out degrees without glancing at a test paper.

None of this, of course, relieves Capello of responsibility for his own plight. He can't plead ignorance of the challenge he faced when he came here, no more than he can claim not to have made his fair share of mistakes. What is worrying, though, is the extent to which he is now being made the scapegoat for all the problems of a football nation in denial.

United's young Mexican striker Javier Hernandez knelt in the centre circle before Sunday's kick-off. Let's hope he slipped in a prayer for the national coach who no longer appears to have one.

Ferguson should be banned from a game unless he talks to the BBC

It is a feeble, mealy-mouthed response by the Premier League to Sir Alex Ferguson's continued defiance of the contracted requirement of all managers to speak to the BBC after games broadcast by the corporation.

Reacting to Ferguson's latest refusal to close an issue – under the force of new regulations – that is now six years old, the League said, "The Premier League is disappointed that the BBC and Manchester United have, as yet, been unable to resolve the issue of Sir Alex providing post-match interviews."

The League's disappointment is misdirected. It is their obligation to settle the matter of Ferguson's bone-deep objection to the BBC documentary on his son Jason's business dealings with United. The rules are not ambiguous. Managers are expected, under the pain of censure, to speak to the public after a match partly funded by rights and licence payers.

For so long the League has failed to persuade the United manager to conform to a practice commonplace throughout football. The talk now is of escalating fines. These are unlikely to work.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of Ferguson's objections, the League is obliged to enforce its regulations or surrender any pretence of authority. If the League is at all concerned about the latter development, it must gather up its nerve and consider imposing a match ban. This would be only slightly less provocative than sending a Trident missile up the Manchester Ship Canal, but surely something has to be done.

Otherwise, Ferguson is entitled to believe that he is indeed operating in a world surrounded by pygmies.

'Bloodgate' apologists should consider a punished doctor's pain

All those who so disgracefully downplayed the horrendous meaning of the Harlequins "Bloodgate" affair should grant themselves a little reflection time over the next few weeks as Wendy Chapman, who has been suspended from medical duties for a year, fights for her professional life before the General Medical Council.

She is accused by the player, Tom Williams, of cutting his lip as part of the fabrication that he had been injured, rather than merely splashed in theatrical blood, during a Heineken Cup quarter-final. Williams, in something that might just pass for a whiff of honour in such a squalid business, has suggested Chapman went to her work reluctantly.

The apologists have said, in the most egregiously arrogant tones, that the whole business has been grossly exaggerated by those unfamiliar with the mores and imperatives of rugby union. One by one, they should be hauled into the GMC hearing and made to consider the possible consequences, and the pain, of such moral bankruptcy.

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