Early Doors

England back on the agenda

Early Doors

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To their immense credit, the English press pack have demonstrated this week that when they sink their teeth into an issue, they are fiercely reluctant to let go. It is an admirable quality when seeking to challenge FIFA's flawed power structure, but one that Fabio Capello knows to his own cost can also be a destructive force.

Because as the farce in Zurich fades away, and football's politics sink once more back into the subconscious of most supporters, attention now switches back to that other subject so beloved of the nation's scribes: the England national side and its bespectacled Italian manager.

It is well over two months since a 1-1 friendly draw with Ghana at Wembley and England have not been a headline story for a long time. Not with a busy end to the domestic season and the eruption of controversy surrounding Sepp Blatter's uncontested coronation at the head of the sport's governing body.

The build-up to the Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland on Saturday has also been very low-key. There has been no intra-squad sex scandal to negotiate, no embarrassing mix-up over the captaincy and even Ashley Cole has kept a low profile, with his air rifle firmly locked away. Even the week's press conferences had an end-of-season feel about them - those quizzed included Stewart Downing and Ashley Young, with events at Aston Villa taking top billing.

But if Capello thought that other distractions had lessened the pressure and focus on his own position, he would have been wrong. One glance at the Twitter feed of the Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter would have been enough to make that abundantly clear.

Describing Saturday's fixture against Switzerland as "huge", Winter went on to tell one of his 113,000 followers that if England fail to win at Wembley, Capello "could get sacked". An astonishing claim from one of the most respected members of the press pack and one that proved Capello's future will very much be on the agenda once again at the weekend, despite a period of relative calm.

Sometimes, ED cannot help but feel there is an element of wishful thinking in claims such as these. After all, it is hardly a new development for the press to be gunning for an England manager; it is not for nothing that a documentary on Graham Taylor's abortive spell as boss was titled 'The Impossible Job'.

Taylor suffered dog's abuse, most notably when being depicted as a turnip by The Sun following the defeat to Sweden that ended England's campaign at Euro '92. However, even the revered Bobby Robson was moulded into a figure of fun.

During Euro '88 the Daily Mirror declared, 'In the name of God, go', before then greeting a draw with Saudi Arabia with a variation on a theme: 'In the name of Allah, go'. Capello has been declared a 'Jackass' by The Sun and generally depicted as a bumbling foreigner with little to no communication skills.

Sometimes these misgivings have been justified. His mishandling of the return of the captaincy to John Terry, and resulting alienation of Rio Ferdinand, prior to the previous Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales was clumsy. Saying he only knew "100 words" of English also fed into a well-established narrative that has come to undermine his rule.

Strangely enough, Saturday's game at Wembley comes against the same opposition, and at the same ground, as Capello's first game in charge. The aura that first surrounded the man described in awed tones as a revered authoritarian has slipped considerably in the intervening three years. Much has changed since that fixture - unsurprisingly when you consider that the now-anonymous David Bentley was a member of the starting XI.

Since an awful World Cup campaign, it appears that pessimism has become the default setting amongst the press. But England still find themselves in a decent position in Euro 2012 qualifying having taken 10 points from four games in Group G. It is hardly end of days stuff.

A 2-0 win in Cardiff in their previous qualifier also saw Capello alight on a 4-3-3 formation that made England a much more cohesive proposition, albeit against a very poor Wales side under Gary Speed.

It is expected that PFA Young Player of the Year Jack Wilshere and Footballer of the Year Scott Parker will again be utilised together in midfield, accompanied by Frank Lampard, while the fact Wayne Rooney is suspended means Theo Walcott should join Ashley Young and Darren Bent in a front three that oozes pace and threat.

When you consider that Switzerland have seen their two leading strikers retire - Alexander Frei and Marco Streller boasted 54 international goals between them - it should be a relatively easy ride for Capello and his side, even if ED admits we are unlikely to see a spectacle to rival the Champions League final at the same stadium a week previously.

The good news on that front is that the FA's head of elite development, Gareth Southgate, has outlined plans that are designed to ensure that in future England do adopt the Barcelona model of success. He announced on Thursday that he wants England to introduce proposals to prevent children from playing 11-a-side matches until they reach Under-13 level. The rationale is that Spain, Italy and France - winners of three of the past four World Cups - do not allow kids to play full games until the Under-14 age group.

"We've had Paul Scholes come through who technically would have been able to play in that Barca team on Saturday because his quality of touch, pass appreciation, ability to play one-touch and manipulate the ball was up there with them," Southgate says. "But would we have produced lots of players like Xavi, Iniesta and Messi? I suspect not. We would probably have overlooked a lot of those. We've got an opportunity now where, once, there might have been some resistance to change. What the World Cup did, and the success Barca have had, is give a greater awareness of what is going on in Europe. There is a desire for change."

Southgate is not wrong on that last point. But Capello is not a lame-duck manager, whatever his critics would have you believe.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I would like to take this opportunity to clarify that neither myself nor my representative have approached or have been approached by another club. This decision to leave Fulham has not been influenced by any outside party." - Mark Hughes claims he decided to quit a perfectly good job at Fulham without having another position lined up. It is reported Aston Villa are now not considering him for their vacant position.

FOREIGN VIEW: "I wasn't even touched. I didn't feel a thing and I only found out after all the kerfuffle, it was nothing." - Lionel Messi reveals that initial breathless reports of an 'assault' on the Barcelona and Argentina star were ever so slightly over the top on Thursday night. The hoodie who swung a punch at him failed to make contact, much like the majority of La Liga defenders Messi has faced this season.

COMING UP: Fabio Capello holds his press conference later on Friday and, this evening, Paul Parker will be previewing the game at Wembley in his Friday blog. In the French Open tennis, Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal should be on court at 13.00, followed by Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the second semi-final.

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