Capello sows seeds of change

February 7, 2008
By Dominic Raynor
(Archive)

It could be a long road back for England's old guard after Fabio Capello's first gamble as England manager paid off with a debut victory at Wembley - beating Euro 2008 hosts Switzerland 2-1.

David Bentley
GettyImages / MikeHewittDavid Bentley: The new DB07

The Italian's inaugural team selection was always expected to differ from the usual suspects of his predecessor's regime but few predicted Jermaine Jenas would get his first start for England in three years. A few eyebrows were raised by his inclusion but it was the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder that opened the scoring after a nervy 40 minutes from England.

With a number of star names absent through injury, or simply out of favour, the 24-year-old took his chance to make an impression, as did the rest of England's new faces.

Prior to Wednesday's match Capello insisted that only fit and in form players would represent his England side and true to his word the former Real Madrid manager followed up his omission of David Beckham from his squad - leaving the Los Angeles Galaxy star stranded on 99 caps - by benching England's 40 goal striker Michael Owen for Wednesday's match.

That duo may have 187 caps between them but they could do nothing but kick their heels as their replacements grabbed the headlines as the star performers against Switzerland.

Blackburn Rovers winger David Bentley took Beckham's No7 shirt and looked at home on England's right flank after taking time to settle into the game. The 23-year-old's playing style is reminiscent of fans' favourite Beckham, especially his crossing and deadball delivery, but he offers more in terms of pace and trickery; and more importantly in terms of England's future.

Bentley's intricate play with Wes Brown on the edge of the box lead to England's first real chance of the match and his vision and accuracy of passing provided a ball over the top of the Swiss defence that Wayne Rooney should really have converted.

On his last England outing Bentley was booed after snubbing the England Under-21's; there were no such jeers on his full debut for the seniors. And although the supporters chanted Beckham's name at Wembley it could be a long time before they see their hero return - especially considering Shaun Wright-Phillips, a further option for the right flank, made lasting impression by scoring the winning goal.

Owen may be closer to a return to first team action but his was a watching brief under Capello and the out-of-form Newcastle striker must have been concerned by what he saw.

Rooney improved in the lone striker role he had failed to excel at in previous England performances - most notably at the World Cup - and was ably assisted by Joe Cole, who operated in the space between the Swiss defence and midfield.

The Chelsea man has been England's most consistent performer since the tail end of Sven-Goran Eriksson's reign and he emerged from Capello's first game in charge as the man of the match.

Coming in from the left to operate just behind Rooney, the 26-year-old revelled in the role he plays so well for Chelsea. He had a good effort on goal saved by goalkeeper Diego Benaglio moments before he beat defender Stephan Lichtsteiner to supply Jenas with the opening goal.

Empics / MikeEgertonMichael Owen (C) could play a role from the bench.

The Rooney - Cole combination was full of trickery and understanding and Owen will have to find better form than the meagre four goals he has scored for Newcastle United this season if he is to break the partnership.

The injury-plagued 28-year-old was handed a further snub by Capello when Liverpool striker Peter Crouch was brought on as a substitute for Cole. Under Steve McClaren or Eriksson, Owen would undoubtedly have been brought on from the bench, yet under Capello he didn't get a single minute of playing time.

And when Crouch replaced Cole, Rooney moved out to the left as the Italian persisted with one man up front. If the 4-1-4-1 formation is the preferred tactic of Capello then there is no place for Owen, at least in the short-term.

By leaving some of England's star names twiddling their thumbs the new boss has proved he is no respecter of reputations. Capello has sent out a clear message to England's young players: if you are fit and in form you can play for the national team.

It may be only one game into the Capello era but the signs of change are there.

England appear to have dispensed with the long-ball, the playing staff have been shaken out of their comfort zone and injured Chelsea duo John Terry and Frank Lampard will be keen to get in on the act for fear their places are taken for good.

Beckham and Owen have a lot to do to get back into Capello's England team.


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