Despite his reputation it is tempting to believe that England will qualify for next summer’s Euros despite, not because of, Fabio Capello.
For a man who masterminded seven Serie A titles (though two were later revoked) and a Champions League trophy it has taken him an astonishingly long time to catch up with the rest of the football world and place greater emphasis on fluidity rather than rigidity.
For all the talk and celebration of his abandonment of 4-4-2 it wasn’t so much the formation that was England’s undoing in last year’s World Cup no-show but rather the fact that each player was sternly assigned a task and that was solely what was demanded of them. If they dared to elaborate, switch roles or – ma vaffanculo! – improvise it would prompt Stuart Pearce to shrink into his dug-out seat expecting another volley of violent manhandling and harassment in the workplace.
Capello was Mount Vesuvius in an Armani suit; you just never knew when he was going to blow and the players were visibly inhibited and fearful.
Suddenly – three years too late but that’s now spilt milk under the bridge – Don Fabio seems to have joined the modern age. His immaculate tie has been loosed a millimetre of two and, under pressure of failure, the control freak has finally ceded some trust to his footballers. Downing is no longer viewed as that most archaic of creations, a winger, but rather an attacking force who will not only hug the touchline from time to time but can also cause havoc in other areas too. Young and Walcott can provide verve, penetration and variable interchange with all of them orbiting around a rejuvenated Rooney. Most pertinently of all England’s new-look midfield three has flexibility where once there was ‘You go up, I’ll stay back’ austerity.
To evoke Eddie Izzard the autocratic Italian has finally let his team ride on scooters with no helmets on going ‘ciao’. It’s all rather funky and the fact that nearly every other team in the universe has been employing such an expressive system for several years now is by the by. Fabio finally woke up and by jove I think he’s got it.
So it’s a genuine hope of mine that the media, and England fans alike, don’t go overboard in their criticism of last night’s flat, bitty performance. Because there will inevitably be poor outings along the way as Capello evolves both his team and himself. There is also considerable consolation to be had from the addition of a valuable three points and the fact that often the mark of a good side is one that plays badly yet can still eke out a 1-0 triumph.
The game itself was somewhat of a dud which is precisely why I’ve spent half this article writing about one of the gaffers.
After the walloping of Bulgaria Capello looked as smug as a man who has nailed cold fusion yet in his post-match interview after last night’s grind against Wales he was straight back to his defensive, impregnable self. It is therefore vital that England supporters repress their disquiet just this one time so as not to encourage the dinosaur to seek refuge back in the stone-age.
The game itself was somewhat of a dud which is precisely why I’ve spent half this article writing about one of the gaffers. With Rooney toiling without reward at one end and Bale full of futile endeavour at the other it resembled at times the PG Tips ad where the monkeys struggle to shove a piano up the stairs.
As a Welshman I spent most of the first half loudly berating the patronising remarks of Tyldesley and his warty-faced dullard side-kick who appeared to believe that the Welsh side was made up of eleven brothers plucked from a mine outside Pontypridd such was their astonishment when more than two passes were strung together.
The little gnome bastard with the mike also cost me a fiver when I lost the ‘Bale in the San Siro’ sweepstake mentioning it at a slovenly 1 min 08 secs when I was sure he’d breathlessly reminisce straight from kick off.
With both sides missing their speed merchants in Bellamy and Walcott it was perhaps inevitable that most of the play took place in front of the defences and with this being essentially a local derby attrition was always going to win out over open, attractive fare. Even so Wales gave a damn fine fist of trying to get the ball down and roll it about and it was a wonderful sight to see young Jack Collison back to full fitness and showing his class after a year out through injury. Though Aaron Ramsay was awarded the MOTM for me it was the West Ham prospect for the simplicity of his link-up play and the stylish manner in which he screened the back four.
These are exciting times for Wales as Gary Speed uses the remaining fixtures of a doomed qualification campaign to mould and development a new team for the future. It’s a bold and astute experiment that has the full backing of a patient Welsh nation. I just hope that England fans do likewise with their coach as he reluctantly ventures into unfamiliar territory.