Fabio Capello’s appointment as England’s manager came as a huge surprise to me when it was announced late last year. I was banking on the FA to get hold of Mourinho given his credentials in handling big names with huge egos at Chelsea (of which there are quite a few in the English team). I have since come to grips with Capello’s appointment and think it will work out well for England in the long run (in fact, I am pretty sure of this since watching Wednesday’s match).
The one thing that irked me about his appointment was that he never seemed like the kind of guy (he looked too soft spoken to me) who could manage a team full of big players. Juventus and Real Madrid had a few players like that and he seemed to manage them well but given the big heads in the English side, Mourinho seemed like the perfect choice and I thought it was a done deal when he left Chelsea. And since the Sven Goran Eriksson debacle I thought it was wiser for England to go for an English manager who would understand better the expectations of the English fans when it comes to football. With both Harry Redknapp’s and Martin O’ Neill’s (two names that would have been an instant hit with fans) denial of the post, the FA looked elsewhere and finally appointed Capello given his resume was one that would make other English managers hide inside their homes.
Wednesday night was the big day as far as Capello was concerned with his first international match (albeit, a friendly against the Swiss). Given all the hype before the match it was only natural that he delayed announcing the first team till the last minute. If absolutely anything at all had gone wrong on that night, I am pretty sure the English press would have lapped it up and ripped him apart to pieces. Thankfully, the team on display did a fine job and dispatched the Swiss army 2 to 1.
Capello’s first team sheet had quite a few surprises in it. His master stroke was in giving the captain’s arm band to a natural leader like Steven Gerrard (who also wears the famed No. 10 jersey nowadays) which looks like it will stay in his arm for quite a while. The defense looked very solid and balanced with two left footers in Upson and Cole on the left and two players who know each other well in Ferdinand and Brown on the right. Jenas in the center of mid field was a surprise to me, though that was merited based on his Tottenham form. Rooney up front was a natural choice given that is the role he is deployed in for Manchester United and Cole playing off him was also a good decision. From the team sheet, at least Capello looked to have gotten his tactics right from the word go which is what Steve McLaren was poor at.
The game itself was more entertaining than the qualifier in which England lost to Croatia which, even though it produced 5 goals, was quite boring in reality. Joe Cole was arguably man of the match in my perspective. He was quite lively from the time the whistle was blown and looked like creating chances for others every time he got the ball on his feet. Rooney was slightly subdued (like he has been for United off late) but got to play his natural role just off the striker in the second half and clearly had a better game there. David Bentley left me quite impressed with his workmanlike performance and great crossing ability. It seems like there will be quite a battle between him and Aaron Lennon as to who will be successor to David Beckham on the right side of mid field for England. The rest of the team came up with the trumps and barring Gary Neville and John Terry, this would make quite a first team against any opponent.
Capello clearly has to move forward from here and he seems to have gotten a big green light from the English press based on early reactions. With a decent win under his belt, he has got 2 years before the next big tournament which will be the 2010 World Cup (now that England are not playing any part in Euro 2008 after the disaster in the qualifiers) and he clearly looks like he is capable of putting out a team which will have each player playing to their strengths and which will play with the sort of passion that is on display in the Premier League week in and week out. He also has a natural penchant for success which he again proved as recently as last year in taking a poor Real Madrid side and making them regain lost glory in the form the La Liga title. Whether he can bring this clearly demoralized English side together and lead them to lost glory in 2010 (there is still a long way to go) remains to be seen.