Seventy-two hours in the life of Fabio Capello. His team plays well on Saturday and beat Wales in Cardiff to go top of the Euro 2012 qualification group after four games. Capello announces that he will make 11 changes – it turns out it will be fewer – to the team for tonight's friendly against Ghana. Six players including John Terry, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole go home. Cue uproar on behalf of England fans.
Barely one week ago the Football Association was taking the usual shellacking for playing a friendly at such a critical moment in the season. It was regarded as at best pointless, at worst dangerous for key players. Now Capello is accused of not taking this aforementioned pointless game seriously. You cannot please all the people, all the time. Or in Capello's case he is finding that the England manager has the unusual gift of displeasing all the people, pretty much all the time.
Here is the position the England manager finds himself in. Had he kept all those players, like Terry and Rooney, who are playing in the Champions League next week, he might have been subjected to another storm like that kicked up by Liverpool when Steven Gerrard played 90 minutes against France in November. So Capello rests them and all that happens is that the criticism increases.
When Capello is criticised on Twitter by the Labour MP Andy Burnham – "the FA get it badly wrong again. Withdrawing players from the Ghana game shows a total disregard for the paying public" – it is impossible not to feel sympathy for him. Granted, the days must go pretty slowly in the shadow Education Secretary's office but you might think that someone with experience of government would have some understanding of the impossible choices the England manager faces.
Capello has had a bad few weeks but having to rest key players for a friendly against Ghana is not his fault. He said yesterday that if the Wales game had been scheduled for tomorrow, not Saturday, he would have told the FA not to organise a friendly at the weekend. Let us remember the key reason for this game – to pay down the £757m it cost to build Wembley, a project that took place with the blessing of the Labour government of which Burnham was subsequently a part.
When the "paying public" purchase their tickets the price does not include a guarantee they'll see certain players. What they are entitled to expect is a competitive England team selected from the original squad picked for these two games, which is exactly what they will get tonight. Given that Ghana played an away game in Congo-Brazzaville as recently as Sunday, only arriving in London yesterday, maybe it is the visitors whose commitment to this game should be questioned.
Capello could have blamed the FA for the latest storm cloud hanging over him but, in his defence, he took full responsibility. "Look, I decided this because, if these players would have played [against Ghana], they would have played four games in 10 days. It's a lot," he said. "For the respect of the players, for the respect for the clubs, I decided that these players can go home. If you are tired at the end of the season, it's possible to [sustain] strong injuries."
It is not like Capello is taking on Ghana with the Gladstone Park third XI. Jack Wilshere looks a good bet to start with Scott Parker on the bench. Andy Carroll is an intriguing addition in attack and he will be replaced at half-time by Peter Crouch, with the best goals-to-minutes-played ratio of any England striker.
Capello said yesterday that he had "private" talks with Carroll about the player's colourful life away from football. "Look, he's young. Really young. His behaviour now is really, really important. Really important. He needs to be careful at every moment. When you play with the England national team, at every moment you are the focus of the fans, the newspapers, the photographers, the people that live around him.
"Carroll is a player who's really good in the air, but not only this. The movement when he receives the ball is good. With the ball he's strong. He's a good player. He's a good forward."
This England team will change dramatically over the next few years. It is already being sculpted around Wilshere. It is not impossible that Ashley Cole will quit after Euro 2012, which means tonight's left-back Leighton Baines could be an England regular in 18 months. Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill are among the candidates to succeed Rio Ferdinand. Ashley Young has scored and started in one each of the previous two games. If this is a "B team", it is a very relevant one.
After the World Cup in South Africa, it was demanded of Capello that he bring in new blood in place of the tired old golden generation. He will do that in an appealing friendly against arguably the brightest young team in Africa. What is not to like?
There are some issues on which the England manager has blundered. The captaincy cock-up and yesterday's admission he only needs 100 words of his imperfect English to communicate with his players were wince-inducing.
But he is obliged to lead England to Euro 2012, not to play friendlies with full-strength teams at the demand of politicians or even the "paying public". Sorry, but check your ticket. It is not included in the price.
Talking the talk
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Sven Goran Eriksson
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