May 17, 2010

Has Capello hit the self-destruct button?

By Engerlund

Up until the past week, it is difficult to remember a time when England’s preparations for a major tournament had gone so well. The nocturnal discretions of some players aside, all seemed well following a convincing qualification campaign and a relatively friendly draw for the group stage of the finals. However, Fabio Capello’s increasingly strange decision making may serve to dampen the nation’s World Cup expectations.

In the space of a week, Capello seems to have diluted his reputation as a master tactician of unquestionable methods, with a series of actions and comments which have left most fans and pundits scratching their head. Are we in for another anti-climatic performance from the Three Lions? Here are the Capello misjudgements which might be giving the nation cause for concern:

The Capello Index

The most bizarre of the lot. Just before he is about to announce his 30-man training squad for the World Cup, he launches a player-ranking system backed by an online gaming firm. The FA rightly waded in and forced its postponement but the damage may well have been done. Capello has constantly preached against off-field distractions to his players, yet is guilty of indulging in a remarkably crass one himself.

A squad featuring the walking wounded

Having previously strictly insisted on the form and fitness of his squad members, this may not have been the best time for the Italian to bend that rule. Confusion reigns as to Gareth Barry projected return from an injury which appeared to have initially ruled him out of contention, whilst Ledley King, a player who is unable to train between games owing to his chronic knee problem, has also made the cut.

An imbalanced squad

Capello had been expected to name a squad with four goalkeepers, and few could argue that Paul Robinson deserved his chance to impress following an excellent season at Blackburn Rovers. Surprise and, in Sam Allardyce’s case, anger therefore at his exclusion. ‘He has made the biggest mistake of his selection process has Fabio,’ the Blackburn Rovers manager told the Free Bet website.

Many have also been left wondering why Capello has failed to include adequated cover at right back in his squad. If Glen Johnson is injured, there is just Jamie Carragher to replace him. Somewhat worrying given Carragher’s protracted absence from the international scene, compounding the fact that it is not even his preferred position. Gary Neville must be wondering what he did wrong.

Talk of a 3-5-2 formation

Rather than recognising any potential shortcomings in his squad, Capello seems to have suggested he may employ a workaround and move to a 3-5-2 formation. This is one which he has never before utilised and which has not found success at the game’s top-level for a considerable period. England fans are unlikely to want to be reminded of Glenn Hoddle’s ineffective use of wingbacks this summer.

Contemplating taking Beckham as a coach

The injury which ended David Beckham’s World Cup hopes was undoubtedly a very sad moment, but inviting him into England’s coaching setup as some kind of consolation prize is ill-conceived. Putting aside the fact that Beckham has no coaching qualifications and his proposed role as a conduit is totally superfluous, the 23 players in the squad don’t need his presence overshadowing their preparations. The football betting markets haven’t changed any odds since Beckham’s new role was announced.

It is still very early stages for England’s World Cup preparations, and a fairer indication of how well the team is set for South Africa will come during pre-tournament friendlies against Mexico and Japan, as well as the subsequent reduction of the squad to 23 players. However, even these plans threaten to be disrupted by the volcanic ash cloud.

So England fans will be hoping that Capello can exercise the superb judgement he demonstrated in the qualifying campaign, rather than the somewhat perplexing decision-making he has demonstrated in the past week. Perhaps this is all part of a grand plan; but it would be reassuring to know exactly what that is we can sleep easy once again.