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Saturday, Feb. 9, 2008
Capello has work cut out for him to rebuild England squad
LONDON — New manager, same old England. Or Englantalia.
Fabio Capello's reign started with a 2-1 win over Switzerland. It was the sort of result and performance we could have expected from any England team at Wembley against one of Europe's most ordinary sides.
There was nothing revolutionary about the Italian version of England apart from the manager's news conference.
For the first time a translation was needed to understand what he was saying.
Capello assumed control with a reputation as a hard taskmaster, a no-nonsense headmaster and someone you cross at your peril.
Those who have played under Sir Alex Ferguson might task: "What's new?"
Capello banned mobile telephones apart from in the players' bedrooms.
The England players were not allowed to play golf in the buildup to the match. There were strict meal times and double training sessions.
The impression given and taken in by many was that the Italian had invented some new never-seen-before regime for his adopted country.
In fact, it was nothing new, just that the Capello way was given shock-horror headlines to make us believe he was a footballing Einstein.
The no-phones ruling is in place at many clubs. England observers struggled to recall the last time the players enjoyed a round of golf before a game.
Meal times have never been "when you can make it, lads," while Capello's predecessor, the much maligned Steve McClaren, also had morning and afternoon training sessions.
The main difference in Capello's England was that the news conference was conducted in Italian with immediate headphone translation and the manager calling the players by their surnames. That is the way it's done in Italy where players call the coach "Mister."
It's different for England, but many will feel "Gerrard" is better than "Stevie," though "Wright-Phillips" might present more problems for Capello who, like every other manager involved in English football, is called "boss."
It would have been wrong to suddenly expect England, which underachieved alarmingly (if not totally surprisingly) as it failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals, to suddenly be transformed into a team of world-beaters.
Yet against Switzerland, one of the most mediocre sides in Europe, and which is only in this summer's finals because it is cohosting the event — and was far from being at full-strength — England looked like . . . well, England.
Only three players survived from the Wembley defeat to Croatia last October, which ensured England would be Euro 2008 spectators, but for long periods it played like a side which struggled to pass the ball with any accuracy.
No change there then.
The crowd showed what it thought about this by booing the millionaires, who at times could not get to grips with the basics of the game.
Players who are having consistently good seasons for their clubs were, not for the first time, dragged down a level or two wearing an England shirt.
An Italian schooled in the art of possession would not have been impressed by the way England gave the ball back to Switzerland so cheaply.
The supporters, used to the hurly-burly of the Premier League, were less than impressed by England's patient buildup. It isn't just the players who will take time being educated to the Capello way.
David James started his first international in almost three years, but as the Portsmouth goalkeeper will be within touching distance of his 40th birthday by the 2010 World Cup it is unrealistic to expect him to remain first choice.
The problem is, England has no goalkeeper who is head and shoulders above the rest.
Chris Kirkland, Scott Carson and Robert Green are all much-of-a-muchness, and Capello must hope one of them emerges as the obvious regular.
Capello's choice for his first lineup was intriguing. He preferred Manchester United's Wes Brown to Micah Richards of Manchester City at right-back, not the sort of decision one would expect from a £6 million a year guy.
Few United fans would agree with the manager's view.
He decided Matthew Upson of West Ham was the best partner for Rio Ferdinand in the center of defense rather than Spurs' Jonathan Woodgate, or the versatile Richards.
He understandably omitted David Beckham on the grounds of match fitness yet, more strikingly, kept Michael Owen — 40 goals in 88 internationals — on the bench all night.
Jermaine Jenas, winning his 18th cap, scored the first goal of the Capello era five minutes before the interval after excellent work by Joe Cole, probably England's best player over the past year.
Wright-Phillips tapped in the winner after Eren Derdiyok's equalizer, but the most impressive performer was Blackburn winger David Bentley, whose display was not good news for Beckham who needs one more cap to join the 100 Club.
He may have to settle for membership in the 99 Club.
The Wembley faithful chanted Beckham's name, but they may as well have chanted Bobby Charlton's.
"It doesn't influence me at all," said Capello, with as near a smile as we'll get from him. "I'm happy for fans to chant David Beckham's name because he is a good player, but the things I do have nothing to do with my personal feelings for a player."
Christopher Davies writes about the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.