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Saturday, August 7, 2010
Capello delivers change England can believe in

Tom Adams

The most bloodthirsty England fans were denied the spectacle of high-profile heads rolling on Saturday when John Terry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard - symbols of the tarnished 'Golden Generation' - all survived Fabio Capello's cull. But this was a significant revolution for the national side, and one which will have immediate and telling repercussions. • Capello calls on Wilshere
• Capello apologises for World Cup It is a transformation that the disaffected fans demanded, and a complacent and overindulged squad required. It is also a transformation that may just generate feelings of excitement and anticipation, rather than antagonism, when England run out against Hungary on Wednesday and begin the complex process of recovering from their lamentable performances in South Africa. Naturally the headlines will surround the intriguing figure of 18-year-old Jack Wilshere. Though he has started only 12 Premier League games, the technically-gifted midfielder will already be starting to feel the weight of a nation's expectations on his shoulders. It is arguable that England have not possessed a player of his unique ability since Paul Gascoigne. But as soon as Wilshere's name was absent from the Under-21 squad list earlier this week, his inclusion was taken as read. What remained to be assessed was the extent to which Capello would slash and burn following that horrendous campaign in South Africa. Our answer came on Saturday evening, and it was a convincing one. Just ten of the squad that travelled to South Africa remain part of the selection for Wednesday's friendly against Hungary (though, of course, both Emile Heskey and Jamie Carragher withdrew their services voluntarily). Capello was at his most ruthless when dealing with the goalkeepers at his disposal. Gone is the 40-year-old David James following his move to Bristol City, and gone too is Robert Green following his horrendous error against USA. Though Paul Robinson has returned, he surely does so as experienced back-up. Capello has instead set up an intriguing battle between Joe Hart and Ben Foster, who, if he follows in his colleague's footsteps at Birmingham City and rediscovers his best form, will be a strong contender for the gloves. It is a rivalry that could last for years, and between two 'keepers who boast only seven caps between them. With a paucity of other options in goal, this tussle surely represents the future of the national side. That feeling is reinforced when looking at Capello's selections in defence. Kieran Gibbs, another debutant, ups the Arsenal contingent to three and now has the chance to demonstrate he can be a long-term successor for Ashley Cole at left-back. Though the Chelsea defender is very much a member of the old guard that has failed the country on numerous occasions, he is one of the few world-class players England possess and crucial to future success. Excluding Terry - who has attracted such controversy in recent months - would have sent a telling message though, and it is disappointing that Capello has decided against doing so, particularly given the way the defender undermined his authority with his ill-judged press conference during the World Cup. But in Michael Dawson, Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill, England now possess three of the Premier League's more impressive centre backs of recent seasons. If the return of Wes Brown appears a retrograde step, consider the possible rivals as Glen Johnson's back-up at right back. They are few and far between. Midfield, too, has a refreshing look about it. Shaun Wright-Phillips, as expected, has paid the price for a disappointing World Cup but Capello has also been fearless in axing Joe Cole and Aaron Lennon. Though the conundrum of how best to use Gerrard, Lampard and Barry remains, England possess exciting options in Adam Johnson, Ashley Young and, of course, Wilshere. Theo Walcott will also be hoping to restate his international credentials after his unexpected absence from the touring party for South Africa. While Capello should be applauded for his proactive approach to overhauling the squad, change for change's sake should perhaps be avoided and his attacking options look desolate, Wayne Rooney aside. Darren Bent, Bobby Zamora and Carlton Cole will not strike fear into the hearts of international defences and the exiled Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe are surely better options. But it would be churlish to pick up Capello on such details on a day when he has shown a real inclination to comprehensively transform the appearance of the England team. Indeed, it is an overhaul that could result in a wholly more positive atmosphere than would have been expected when welcoming the World Cup flops back to Wembley on Wednesday. The English public demanded changes after that humiliating 4-1 defeat to Germany and Capello has delivered. Now the new generation must prove worthy of the hopes of a nation as the road to Euro 2012 begins.


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