Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Capello Seeks The Right Blend
Full-time England fan Will Hodges explains that experience is the order of the day for Fabio Capello's provisional World Cup squad
If Sven Goran Eriksson was an icy Swede with a fiery interior then Capello is the opposite: a fiery Italian with an inner core that for the most part appears calm and reliable. True to his nature, the Italian’s picks for his 30-man South Africa party threw up few surprises, a far cry from Sven’s 2006 selection which famously included 17-year-old Theo Walcott, whose limited experience had peaked with the odd run-around for Arsenal’s reserves. On the contrary, Capello’s choices were by and large practical and well-merited.
The biggest ‘shocks’ were undoubtedly the recalls for former Sven stalwarts Jamie Carragher and Joe Cole who, for a variety of reasons ranging from retirement to injury and loss of form have been more or less absent from the Italian’s plans to date. Their inclusion, however, further highlights Capello’s level-headedness when it comes to team selection. For all the talk of impact players and ‘secret weapons’, when it comes to international tournaments, top level experience is one commodity that can never be overlooked.
The England manager has never been one to discriminate on the basis of age, particularly when older players are concerned. His trust in David Beckham, though gently probed by the press, was testament to his belief in his own tactical nous rather than the kind of blind faith in the midfielder held by his predecessor. That Beckham was touching 35 held no worry for Capello, who, through the benefit of his illustrious career on the continent, has come to appreciate the need for reliable figures both on the pitch and in the dressing room. The Italian is no mug; take a glance at team-list of any world class international team and you find a healthy smattering of mid-30s stalwarts still plying their trade at the highest level. Likely to play a pivotal role in their country’s fortunes this summer are Gilberto of Brazil, Italy’s Cannavaro and Henry of France, to name but three.
As much as it goes against the instinct of the supporter back home, at international tournaments inexperience just doesn’t cut it. For all the good Theo Walcott’s summer of bench warming did him in 2006, Sven’s refusal to play him even when faced with little or no alternative spoke volumes. Likewise, take Steven Gerard and Rio Ferdinand’s respective inclusion as teenagers in Euro 2000 and France 98; promising glimpses of potential over the course of a Premier League season doth not a reliable back-up plan make. The exceptions to this line of thinking, of course, are Messrs Rooney and Owen, but by the time of their inclusion both had established themselves as exceptional talents more than capable of playing at the highest level. Rooney already had a credible number of international caps to his name.
That is why Carragher, for all his faults and much chronicled loss of pace over the past season, more than justifies his selection. My only grievance would be if Capello had the necessary sagacity to bring Carragher back into the fold then why not Sol Campbell? Although admittedly no longer the defensive rock of the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, Sol has made a remarkable, if not unexpected return to Arsenal’s first team, putting in a series of strong, dependable performances for the Gunners during the tail-end of their campaign. Though far behind John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King in the pecking order, Campbell would have presented a far more reliable back-up option than Matthew Upson, who for the most part is untested on the European or international stage, plying his largely unremarkable trade at the likes of Birmingham City and West Ham. His presence in Capello’s squads has been largely due to the self-imposed exile of Carragher coupled with the much-chronicled injury problems suffered by King since his last cap in 2007. Now both these issues appear to have been resolved, it begs the question ‘what is he doing there?’.
For Carragher, read also Joe Cole, returning to international set-up after a long lay-off though injury. Arguably England’s best player in Germany four years ago and still only 28, Cole has more than 50 caps to his name, not to mention extensive Champions League experience and this, in my view, more than justifies his selection. For all the championing of Adam Johnson’s form at Manchester City over the past few months, who would you rather have lining up on the left of midfield in the event of an injury to Steven Gerrard? Johnson may be flavour of the month but while Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and countless other bright young things have tried and failed to clinch the left wing position in recent years, Cole has rarely disappointed during his service in the white jersey.
Of course, neither Cole nor Carragher are dead certs to make it onto the plane and both will need to prove themselves in the warm-up games. With both men old hands when it comes to these kinds of proceedings, however, neither are likely to be quaking in their boots.Experience breeds level-headedness – a trait Capello has in spades. In the wake of the minor ‘Capello Index’ blip, the press pack are likely to take it upon themselves to attempt to find fault with the Italian’s final squad election come May 30, but while the hapless Eriksson only invited trouble in this regard, one would assume Capello’s composure will win out.