Sport Soccer

Friday 23 February 2018

Capello must locate old qualities quickly

England 2
Switzerland 2

Henry Winter

Another day, another broken promise, another reminder of a coach on the road to retirement.

Fabio Capello always advocated picking players on form yet he left Ashley Young, good enough to be coveted by Manchester United, on the bench and started James Milner, who is not even first choice at Manchester City. Young, gifted and blackballed -- the omission of the Aston Villa flier was an inexplicable decision for a manager as experienced as Capello.

Capello tried to justify his error, arguing that Young was better in the hole, and therefore not as effective out wide as Milner. Even taking into account the lingering language difficulties, Capello's argument will have sounded nonsensical to followers of Villa and City.

Young is flexible enough to play anywhere across the forward-line (barring the No 9 role), but he made his reputation causing havoc on the flanks.


In terms of form, Young boasts 11 goals in 48 games this season compared to Milner's two in 50. A year ago, Milner was the man in form, and the Villa star being wooed by a Manchester heavyweight. Maybe Capello got his years mixed up.

In fairness to Capello, a coach with a distinguished pedigree lest we forget, he has grown to understand some of the deep fault-lines running through the Wembley dressing-room: the psychological brittleness because of the intense scrutiny that comes with England, as well as the technical limitations in certain players.

Capello acknowledged one of the traits most inhibiting England when he observed that "we played with fear" in the first half against Switzerland.

Take Joe Hart. Arguably culpable with Tranquillo Barnetta's first free-kick, the England 'keeper was let down by Milner and the Great Disappearing Wall Act for the Swiss midfielder's second. Hart now finds himself being excessively castigated as if he's not worth continuing with, forgetting all the good saves he has made and the reality that he's England's best goalkeeper since David Seaman.

The team's incompetence at dealing with Barnetta's free-kicks inevitably raised the question of how much work was done on defending set-pieces in training. Although Leighton Baines had just replaced Ashley Cole, causing some uncertainty, this was England's first-choice back-line and they should have been better prepared.

Capello's mantra on Saturday revolved around England having "tired" minds and bodies, and needing to guard against picking unfit players in the future. What a revolutionary idea. This is the manager who took three players with questionable fitness to the World Cup (Ledley King, Wayne Rooney and Gareth Barry).

By constantly stressing that the players were "tired", Capello risked giving them excuses. In fact, the player whose "tiredness'' has been most analysed was Jack Wilshere, pulled out of the European U-21s because Arsenal said he was facing exhaustion, yet looking the freshest of Capello's players.

Wilshere is tough mentally, making him a beacon of hope for a team of fragile belief. He kept trying to drive the team forward, even winning the penalty with which Frank Lampard helped give England a lifeline.

Capello's alluding to the fear factor meant it was even more bemusing he had not started the self-assured Young. "I was disappointed not to start but I took it on the chin," said Young. "I've got the character and the strength to grab my chance with both hands."

He scored, caused Switzerland constant problems and made himself even more of a target for Champions League clubs like United.

When the contributions of Wilshere and Young (for 45 minutes) are noted and lauded then there is still reason to believe that England can reach Euro 2012. They will be strengthened when Rooney returns from suspension and Steven Gerrard from injury for next season's challenges.

What Saturday highlighted again, however, was the long-term work required by the FA in nurturing better players. Until then, England need a manager who can organise and motivate, qualities that Capello once had in abundance and must rediscover quickly. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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