First of all, big apologies to those who may have missed me during my barren spell over the last week. I have been busy spending time with my returned girlfriend and then spent the weekend moving to Wellington, and so chances to write have been almost entirely limited. However, I return today with renewed vigour (perhaps) and hopefully a backlog of things to discuss (maybe). Hopefully we’ll get back to one a day from now on in. Thanks, as always, for reading.
No one can really turn up their noses at the results produced by Fabio Capello since he ascended to what has to be one of the most difficult jobs in football. Memorable victories over Croatia and Germany are the highlights of a short but successful tenure so far as we have stormed to a good start in our World Cup qualifying campaign. So let it be clear, that I do not wish to criticise his results, but that I am merely suggesting that he may be about to fall into a trap, and it is a trap that has caught out all of his predecessors in recent years.
When he first took the job he came in with a storm of discipline, impartiality and form-based selection, and that was a breath of fresh air. For too long had people been trying to cram all of our ‘superstars’ into a team rather than trying to build a team of it’s own merit. Therefore we were glad that here, finally, was someone who would come in and not be blinded by the stardom of Gerrard and Lampard, and wouldn’t feel obliged to play them together, but might find a way to make the team function more effectively as a whole.
And it paid off, great team performances against the likes of Croatia, and especially against Germany where something resembling a ‘B’ side took to the field and played with more spirit and togetherness than we have seen from a team bearing the Three Lions since Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce and Co. came so close at Euro ’96. Suddenly we were seeing an England team that was happy to play the English way, full of commitment and passion and at pace, which is, in my opinion, the way that we should overcome the superior technical abilities of the other ‘footballing superpowers’. And ‘lo and behold, it is an Italian that was bringing these English qualities out in our national side.
However, with the announcement of the latest squad for the midweek friendly with Spain, I’m starting to think that Fabio’s impressive resolve to resist the temptation to play England’s superstars is starting to wear thin. The main reason for this is not David Beckham’s return to the squad. Indeed I’m fully behind old Goldenballs’ reinclusion, as he has been working hard at Milan and has shown he can still cut it with the cream of European football.
No, what troubles me is that he has included Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, and although Phil Jagielka looks likely to be given the chance to sit on the bench, Joleon Lescott misses out altogether. This is in direct contradiction to his insistence that those players who are playing the best at the time would be given the chance to play for England, as there can be no doubt that at the moment, Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka would be England’s most effective central defensive partnership for the match against Spain.
I mean yes, perhaps on paper, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry are England’s best two centre backs. But the thing is, John Terry has only been back playing after injury for a couple of games and isn’t at his magnificent best yet, and while Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are performing impressively for United during their current impregnable run, I think people perhaps overlook the importance of partnerships and understanding when it comes to international football.
For me, a central defensive partnership is one of the key aspects pf any team. They are your defensive marshals and also the players who have to be able to cope with the majority of a teams attacking threat, channeled though their centre forwards. It is important for them to have a good relationship, and an innate understanding of where one another will be, to function effectively as one. Terry and Ferdinand, though individually world class defenders, do not have this partnership, as they don;t play together frequently enough to forge it.
On the other hand, you have Jagielka and Lescott, who are perhaps not as formidable by reputation and ‘on paper’ but are certainly more than capable defenders. When you then take into account that they play together week in week out, train together every day and have struck up an incredibly effective defencive partnership over the last few months, one must question just why Capello hasn’t chosen them both in his squad. What they lack in natural ability compared to their more esteemed rivals, they more than make up for in an incredible understanding and immense commitment.
Another factor that should surely count in their favour is that Jagielka and Lescott, in recent weeks, have come up against Spain’s leading marksmen and biggest goal threat, Fernando Torres, three times. On precisely zero of those occasions has ‘El Nino’ managed t get out of Jagielka’s back pocket, and only once did he even look like scoring in over 380 minutes of football. When you then consider that when playing against John Terry and his Chelsea side, Torres scored twice in two minutes, you wonder whether Jagielka and Lescott might not be better equipped to deal with the Spaniard’s threat than JT and Rio.
For me then, there should have been very little doubt in Capello’s mind about who he should be picking for this match if indeed he was selecting his team based on current form. Even though John Terry is his nominated captain, his form at present does not, in my opinion, put him in the top two of English central defenders. Ferdinand might be up there, but when you consider how well Jagielka and Lescott operate as a pair, I think they should be the victors in that little tussle.
It is really such a shame that Capello hasn’t had the balls to come out and do it. Of course, no one really expected him to, and I’d have been surprised if he had, but I would have admired his guts. And after all, he has had success so far in abandoning the ‘exepected’ team selections and formations and such, and attempting to put together the best ‘team’ rather than ‘collection of individuals’ from the players available. I believe that in selecting Jagielka and Lescott he would have been continuing this healthy policy, and he may regret it.
Of course, there is every possibility that Rio and JT will come out and play like Lions and keep the Spaniards at bay, and everyone will be completely satisfied with Capello’s selection and will be saying “Phil who?”, but in a way, I hope they don’t. Of course I want England to win, what a boost it would be to beat the European Champions, but England usually make hard work of things, and it’d be nice to have people question their selection, when two such worthy stand ins will be sat watching, one from the bench, and one from his living room.
In the end, football is a results business, and if Fabio gets the results, he will get the adoration of his fans. I have been very impressed with the way he has conducted himself thus far, but see this as a slight break from his so far successful methods. They say you should never mess with a winning formula, and if we should lose due to defencive frailties, maybe it will give Fabio a timely reminder of his selection priorities, which wouldn’t go amiss. If we win, great, it is at least good to know that we have such effective understudies waiting in the wings.