Capello puts his faith in Rooney to stay focused
ONLY in the mad world of English football could the star who fell to earth begin his recovery at 30,000 feet.
During England's flight here, Wayne Rooney informed Fabio Capello he was psychologically ready to play in tonight's challenging Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland. "He said he was focused,'' Capello explained.
All the headlines screaming about his private life would not distract him, Rooney reassured the coach. Having watched the striker in training, Capello had drawn the same conclusion. Rooney was ready. Capello could sense the determination to feature, to reach the place of sanctuary bounded by white lines.
Rooney will either get a hat-trick or a red card in St Jakob-Park tonight.
At training there yesterday evening, Capello stood on the touchlines and watched as Rooney (below) ran lengths of the pitch flanked by Liverpool's Steven Gerrard and Everton's Phil Jagielka, as if seeking to wrap himself in a Merseyside comfort blanket.
"When he was on the pitch, he forgot any problems he has,'' continued Capello. "It's important to stay with the players, to stay together, and to play. The desire is that he will play very well. I admire that.''
Capello knows how weakened England would be without Rooney (right) threading the type of passes that kept releasing Jermain Defoe through on goal against Bulgaria last Friday.
"There is a chemistry between them at the moment,'' said Capello.
"Rooney is an important player for England, for the young people, for all English people.''
The Italian seemed to be acknowledging England's No 10 was a role model, as the Rooney story became lost in football's moral maze again.
Capello shrugged when asked whether he found all these tales of footballer excess wearying.
"Look, I have to be ready for everything in my job," he explained.
At times yesterday an exasperated Capello just let his body language do the talking. English scrutiny of public figures bemused him. He leaned back in his chair at a city-centre hotel, then waved his hands about before finally finding some words.
"It's England,'' he sighed. "It's the English newspapers. In the other countries it's not the same.''
Capello's doctrine is that he expects decorum from his players, but will not drop them if they stray.
"The players know the rules. But always for us, for the team, what is really important is the performance on the pitch. Look, you have to divide the private life and the job.''
In fairness to Capello, he is not paid £6m a year for pastoral care of a few emotionally flawed young men. He's paid to get results and will instinctively pick shamed stars if they will do a job for him.
He was reminded that he had stripped John Terry of the England captaincy following unsavoury headlines. He even spoke at the time of his players needing to set a moral standard. So where did this leave his support for Rooney? Were double standards being applied?
"John Terry played all the games after what happened. I never suspended him, never. He played all the games. But he was captain and for this I changed the captain. It was only with the armband I felt it was important to do that," the manager argued.
It is difficult to quarrel with Capello on the Terry issue. He handled it well, demoting him to the ranks, ensuring that the player was reminded that certain responsibilities went with the honour of captaincy.
Capello once spoke of Rooney being a potential captain of his country.
"He's not captain now,'' said Capello, and his icy tone reflected that such a badge of office as the England captaincy had to be a badge of honour.
An arch-pragmatist like Capello simply took pleasure from Rooney's last performance, from the striker's creative influence on England's 4-0 victory over Bulgaria.
At Wembley, Rooney played just off Defoe, a role he will continue this evening, hoping to elude Stephane Grichting, one of the sentries of Switzerland's famously obdurate backline.
"He will play in the same position because he really liked it,'' said Capello. "He gets the ball a lot. He can be free to move around. "You can see how enthusiastic he is.
"He's so technically strong and, passing the ball, he was excellent. He was just in front of the two central midfielders, but when we win the ball he has to be in front of the goal.''
Rooney's versatility makes him even more valuable to Capello.
"Rooney played a lot of different positions. He's played left in the Champions League. He's played as a lone centre-forward, and in midfield.''
Yet in the dismal summer in South Africa, Rooney saw far less of the ball.
"In the World Cup, none of my players were at the same standard they're at now -- physically and mentally,'' suggested the coach.
Now England journey a new road, and the way to Euro 2012 will become more open if they can overcome the defensively-adept, counter-attacking Swiss.
"They're a team that play the counter-attack very well, putting pressure on the ball very well,'' warned Capello.
"When they win back the ball, five or six players go forward very fast. They play one-touch and are dangerous. They run a lot, press a lot.''
Reflecting on others in Group G, he added: "Every game will be dangerous in the qualifiers. When you play in Wales it won't be easy. When we play in Bulgaria and also in Montenegro, it won't be easy. This is a really balanced, difficult group.
"But it is a good time for the English team. The players are strong and psychologically, it is a good moment for them.''
Capello also warned of the need for absolute concentration tonight.
"You have to be focused. You have to understand that every ball is important. If you lose the ball, you can lose the position on the pitch. If you lose the position, the opposition can capitalise. You have to be completely focused.''
One mistake and Alexander Frei or Eren Derdiyok could well pounce.
England will make one change, with the injured Michael Dawson replaced by either Gary Cahill, who came on against Bulgaria, or Joleon Lescott, who is more familiar with Phil Jagielka from their Everton days.
Jagielka definitely starts following his excellent display against Bulgaria.
"He's in a really good moment. He's the driver of the back-four -- the marshal," added Capello.
But all eyes will be an old Evertonian. Rooney must show his good side tonight. (© Daily Telegraph, London)