As England prepare for their international friendly against Egypt on Wednesday, Head Coach Fabio Capello, far from making final adjustments, desperately needs to find adjustments for the finals. The Italian needs to stick to his principles and pick players in the peak of their form right up until the day he has to submit his 23-man squad.
Capello set a benchmark early in his career with England that form would be the deciding factor – the demise of Michael Owen’s international career was the first step – and to defer now and stick with tried and tested individuals based on prior performances would be to undermine the principals he as shown so far. This has been a breath of fresh air after the reputation flattering regime of Steve McLaren. Capello needs to follow this principle until the day he names his squad. This throws up some interesting question marks over personnel, many of which have been profiled by A Different League.
In goal, England’s current No.1, David James, doesn’t know if he has a club to play for on a weekly basis, whilst Robert Green and Scott Carson seem unable to convert club form to international level. Paul Robinson looks like a different goalkeeper this season at Blackburn Rovers, although he still looks short of international class. At left-back, cover for the injured Ashley Cole was to be taken up by Wayne Bridge, but now young pretenders Leighton Baines and Stephen Warnock will battle for the spot. At centre-back, the two captains – current and ex – struggle for form as reports about off-field performances continue to fill both the back and front pages. Meanwhile, Michael Dawson at Tottenham looks increasingly like an international defender and Ryan Shawcross continues to impress at Stoke. Glen Johnson’s attacking prowess cannot hide a frailty in defence that could be exposed by the best wingers in the world and with a possible contender for his slot being Phil Neville, who has international experience and has come into excellent club form in a resurgent Everton team, the Liverpool man will be looking over his shoulder. Aaron Lennon’s injury and Theo Walcott’s lack of form are worrying issues in the right-wing role, especially after David Beckham’s anonymous outing against Manchester United for Milan showing he may not have the same impact anymore. Adam Johnson, Stewart Downing and Ashley Young are getting better by the game as we enter the business end of the season, while Darren Bent and Bobby Zamora are both performing for their clubs. On Capello’s original policy, as many of these players as possible should be called up, if not against Egypt, then against Mexico on May 24.
These international friendlies give Capello an opportunity to test those players that are pushing hard for a place in the squad. With so many positions yet to be fully nailed down, these games are an excellent opportunity for in-form players to impress. New faces in the squad always bring competition for places. even in the finance-centric business football has become, all players want to be at the World Cup. Geoff Hurst was a late inclusion in the 1966 World Cup squad and we all know what happened in the final of that tournament.