Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Uphill for Capello

Not a startling beginning to Fabio Capello's reign as England boss this evening: a 2-1 Wembley victory over an under-strength Switzerland side that introduced a host of subs and still nearly snatched a draw right at the close. Still, at least you couldn't accuse it of being a false dawn. Under the tough Italian, things can only get better. But as Alan Shearer rightly observed from the BBC1 pundit's chair this evening, if a manager of this undoubted quality can't get the players everyone has been saying 'can do it' to perform, then "things are worse than we thought". On the evidence of this plodding display, with sparks of creativity, there is a long way to go. But then no-one seriously thought this wasn't a long haul, and Capello said as much in his interview with Ray Stubbs ("Stubbsio" - Gary Lineker) before the game, with reference to the ascent towards a 2010 Word Cup in South Africa.

The Italian also pointed out earlier in the week that he has 37 players to examine in the English Premier League, whereas there are 66 potential internationals ready to serve their country in Serie A. Or, to put it less kindly, his problem as England manager is that he can only pick English players. It isn't that there aren't some pretty decent ones, though how many of them would be selected for France, Spain, Italy, Argentina or Brazil is another matter. No, the difficulty has been getting them to gel as a team and perform with consistency, quality and adaptability.

Sven Goran Eriksson did a good job overall, but received ill-informed bile towards the end. Steve McClaren was out of his depth, but can't be blamed for saying "yes" when offered the post. Capello is a master with little sense of fear. The question is, how can he transform the game in the middle of the park? The way to play England, it seems, is to spread in midfield and deny them space. That is what Switzerland, hardly past masters, did tonight. All too often, England players lacked the consistent technical ability to maintain first-touch passing and get through. For their clubs they can rely on other European colleagues to assist with that task, while they provide guts and movement. It wasn't like that here.

In the end, the two goals came from incisive moves from the side. The new boss will hope that the Gerrard - Wright-Phillips move for the second is a sign of what is, in fact, possible on a more regular basis. Capello will want to do a lot more than wish, however. And no doubt he will do... a lot more.

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