Capello's Catch 22 – and his greatest gift

FFT writer Mark Booth criticises Capello's critics – and spies a welcome potential legacy

Fabio Capello’s announcement that he will send out a second-string side against Ghana has been met with yet more criticism for the under-fire Italian. After sending practically all of England’s Champions League contesting players back to their clubs for a break, Capello has once again faced the wrath of the English media and supporters’ groups, though it’s difficult to see why.

Dropping a shoulder and dummying the nonsensical timing of the friendly at the business end of an increasingly hectic club season, perhaps it’s about time Capello gained some credit for showing perspective and common sense in his approach. What more can we learn about Terry, Lampard, Cole, Rooney and even Dawson?

A functional and largely dominant display against Wales on Saturday offered few thrills but some satisfaction for England as international experience and guile won out against a poor Wales side. Much of the criticism has been directed at both Capello and the FA, fans expecting to see England’s first XI in exchange for hefty ticket prices, though it can be argued that this school of thought is missing the point.

In the fall-out from a poor South African campaign with the World Cup's oldest squad, large sections of the nation’s support demanded revolution – out with the tried and tested and in with the new dawn. Capello’s evolution has been characteristically gradual, less a revolution than a slow and steady changing of the guard. Jack Wilshere and Joe Hart are currently the sole symbols of New England, with Adam Johnson, Andy Carroll and Kyle Walker looking to follow.
Capello's critics have gone from demanding the demolition of the so-called “golden generation” to a insisting upon continuity in a meaningless friendly – a sticking with the same players universally deemed not good enough last summer. 

Walcott, Cahill and Young: A New England? 

It strikes as a little bit Catch-22 for a beleaguered coach facing lazy objection from allcomers. Should England’s priorities whimsically shift away from development of the first team to providing value for money? Should a convincing win over admittedly below-average opposition be forgotten just because the armband has been passed to Gareth Barry, the most experienced remaining member of the squad?

Obviously there's an agenda at hand. In England, as opposed to most other European nations, the fault for underperformance lies all but exclusively at the manager’s door. England underperformed in South Africa and there’s no doubt Capello deserves a portion of blame for for the inflexibility in his setup – for not gambling on more exciting, game-changing players like Theo Walcott and Adam Johnson.

However, few found fault with the man pre-tournament. It’s tempting to claim prior knowledge when hindsight grants you the opportunity to criticise, but the rigid, disciplined approach Capello took in reaching those finals won nothing but praise from all quarters. In England, a pitchfork can be an instrument of real seduction.

Capello has reportedly loosened up a little, allowing the players to play golf to stave off boredom post-training – a luxury not granted during last summer’s ill-fated campaign. I don’t believe the man is “phoning it in”, as the usually faultless James Richardson posited. I believe there is evidence of growth, of a re-evaluation of the man’s ideals and a flexibility in approach to a job he’s perhaps finally getting fully to grips with. Whisper it quietly, but is there even evidence of an improved command of the English language?

Of course, you won’t hear this commented on: it’s off-message.

The Italian’s greatest gift to English football may well be yet to come, though not with silverware. Unless there is an enormous shift in public feeling, the country won’t deck their homes and Ford Fiesta wing mirrors with the crosses of St George proclaiming that “this is our year”, Terry Venables won’t croon “please let my dream come true…” during every advert break for Poland/Ukraine 2012. A tapering back in expectation. Perspective.

That can be no bad thing.