familiar problems continue to stalk Fabio Capello, not least the questions of which wingers he can rely on and how might he repair the damage to his authority caused by his decision to take the captaincy from Rio Ferdinand and return it to John Terry.
The Italian is too stern a figure to ever appear careworn, but there are times when an England manager must feel that criticism is an inexorable noise around the position.
During last summer’s World Cup, Capello was derided as bull-headed and unfeeling, a manager who refused to accept that 4-4-2 was outdated and who alienated his players by barracking them in their hotel. The depiction was facile, but it reflected a general sense of unease at his dogmatic personality.
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Twelve months on from the bleakness of England’s performance in being knocked out by Germany – whose attacking vibrancy was both a contrast and a rebuke to the staidness of Capello’s tactical approach – he will field a different formation and a younger, more agile side against Switzerland in a European Championship qualifier at Wembley today.
To his detractors, the conversion to 4-3-3 and a more attacking game came too late, but Capello has never been an idealist. He opted for experience in South Africa because he felt the streetwise players would be better able to cope with the tournament’s demands. Now, he relies on Theo Walcott, Scott Parker, Darren Bent and Adam Johnson, all players he left out of his World Cup squad. With Wayne Rooney suspended and Steven Gerrard injured, Capello is expected to play Parker in the midfield holding role, with Walcott and Ashley Young either side of Bent in attack. Capello will not see this strategy, which he has applied in previous Euro 2012 qualifying matches, as a concession to his critics, but instead a necessary evolution.
Walcott, Johnson and Young have all improved this season, while Bent’s move from Sunderland, who tend to defend deep and hit on the counter-attack, to Aston Villa, where he is obliged to hold up the ball and bring team-mates into play rather than relying solely on his pace, has earned Capello’s praise. The emergence of Jack Wilshere as a midfielder of genuine authority at Arsenal has also enabled the switch to a midfield three, although there will eventually come a time to choose between Frank Lampard and Gerrard for the third slot.
Ferdinand and Terry will play together at centre-back. The Manchester United defender is believed to have spoken with Capello during the build-up to today’s game to repair relations after the clumsy way Terry was reinstated. Some squad members remain disdainful in private of the way the issue was handled, but there is a sense of pushing past the issue for the good of the team.
Some players have reason to be self-absorbed, though, with several likely to be involved in significant transfers over the summer. Parker and Young will surely play their last match for England while with their current clubs, and Gary Cahill, the Bolton Wanderers defender, is coveted by Arsenal.
No England manager will ever be able to rely upon unstinting support – Harry Redknapp already has disparagers, and he is only the favourite to succeed Capello – but positive results keep the condemnation at bay. When the Italian arrived at training last week, he addressed the players by saying: “No messing about, we are here to win the game.”
The obligation for Capello is not to conform to tactical vogues, or enthusiasm for particular individuals, but instead to stay true to his own imperative, which is to succeed, by whatever means.
analysis Italian has altered team and tactics but one thing will never change, writes Richard Wilson