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Friday, January 11, 2008
ESPNsoccernet: January 14, 10:59 AM UK
Capello's England shaping up

Dominic Raynor

New England manager Fabio Capello has been in the job for less than a week but has already run his eye over four live matches as he begins to formulate the basis of his initial squad - due to be announced on January 31 ahead of a friendly with Switzerland, at Wembley.

It is a critical moment for the 61-year-old Italian as his selection will become the first solid criteria for the public and media to debate: and he faces some difficult choices.

The David Beckham factor is one such poser. Beckham clearly does not represent the future direction of English football but with the former captain and national-hero stuck on 99 caps it would be difficult for Capello, who has become a fan of the determined midfielder since their problems at Real Madrid, to omit him for a meaningless friendly that would rack-up his landmark 100th appearance.

Also part of Capello's thinking will be the criticism levelled at his predecessor Steve McClaren, and even his forebear Sven Goran Eriksson, is that they never got the best out of England's finest crop of players for a generation. The multiple scudetto winner may be urged to stick with England's usual suspects just to prove that he can polish the fallen stars and in one stroke confirm that he is a better manager than those that have gone before him.

Alternatively, the former AC Milan coach could opt to start with a totally clean slate; wiping away the old-guard and bringing in a host of new faces to build a team, and squad, to be ready for the challenge of World Cup 2010. This approach would allow the players two years to develop together and adapt to demands international football.

However, the latter option seems unlikely as Capello has always chosen to include numerous experienced players in his club sides so it is reasonable to assume that he will once again select a core of accomplished players for England.

At Real Madrid, Capello was instrumental in dissuading Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos, 34, from leaving the club; he brought Emerson, 31, with him from Italy, stuck with the previously out-of-favour Raul, 30, and eventually brought back a 31-year-old Beckham.

So England can expect the services of their established players to be largely retained but Capello will surely add some new faces to the team; those that have hit, or maintained, their form under the new England manager's gaze, and that is certainly bad news for Paul Robinson.

The Tottenham keeper is suffering dire form at the moment and after a series of high-profile errors was dropped for his team's Carling Cup semi-final with Arsenal on Wednesday night. That was to prove a double disappointment as Capello was at the Emirates Stadium to watch that very game.

Earlier in the week England goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence scouted West Ham United's FA Cup clash with Manchester City, where two young English keepers were on show in Joe Hart and Robert Green, and after the match Clemence intimated that the goalkeeping position could be one spot given a fresh look.

But while Robinson's downfall may be lamented by Tottenham, Ledley King's man-of-the-match performance under the gaze of Capello has surely boosted the centre-back's stock. His return visibly stiffened Spurs' previously porous defence against Arsenal and with John Terry out injured the 27-year-old could be real contender for Capello's first eleven.

If injury-prone King could be considered a surprise inclusion then England fans can also expect to see others. As a foreign coach Capello has no preconceptions or media influenced views about who should and should not be in the squad; form and ability are the only things that will count. When Eriksson arrived in 2001 the Swede unexpectedly included the likes of Charlton's Chris Powell, Sunderland's Gavin McCann and Everton's Michael Ball in his first squad.

A further variable to factor in, and the one that will arguably have the biggest impact on the England set up, is Capello's recent distrust of England's traditional 4-4-2, his dislike of the classic winger and his reputation as a master tactician.

Arrigo Sacchi, the man in charge at the San Siro before Capello made his name with Milan, believes his compatriot will not stick with the often bemusing tactics of England.

'He does not rate, I think, the tactics often used by British teams, especially in the past, at great international tournaments like the European Championship or the World Cup, particularly in away games,' Sacchi said.

Throughout Capello's glory years at AC Milan he employed a two-man screen in front of his solid and established back four of Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Mauro Tassotti, sometimes switching to a wing-back system.

During his most recent stint at Real Madrid Capello was almost forced to temporarily convert to a 4-3-3 system, due to the overwhelming amount of attacking talent at the club, but he once again retained his 'doble pivote' to screen the back four and eventually employed Raul and Robinho in unfamiliar positions, as advanced wingers, in support of lone striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy in his favoured 4-2-3-1 system.

This system and the doble pivote of two screening midfielders has brought Capello success at every club he has managed so it is fair to assume he will continue to do so with England; although with neither Wayne Rooney, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe - or anybody else for that matter - excelling as a lone striker the position may pose a serious problem.

Given the injuries to some England regulars (John Terry and Gary Neville) and the poor form of probable contenders (Michael Owen, Paul Robinson and Darren Bent) Capello's first line-up could look something this:

                                        David James

Micah Richards    Rio Ferdinand    Ledley King    Ashley Cole

                      Owen Hargreaves    Gareth Barry

             David Beckham    Steven Gerrard    Joe Cole

                                       Wayne Rooney

Predicting Capello's first squad is obviously a matter of making an educated guess but if we forecast a mix of experience, new faces, players who are in form and the expected nature of the Italian's tactics then his fist selection, from those available, may look something like this:

David James
Robert Green
Joe Hart

Micah Richards
Rio Ferdinand
Ledley King
Ashley Cole
Wes Brown
Joleon Lescott
Sol Campbell
Glen Johnson

Gareth Barry
Owen Hargreaves
David Beckham
Steve Gerrard
Joe Cole
David Bentley
Frank Lampard
Gabriel Agbonlahor
Leon Osman
Ashley Young

Peter Crouch
Wayne Rooney
Dean Ashton
Theo Walcott

  • If you have any thoughts you can email Dominic Raynor.

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