With all the issues which have gone on behind the scenes over the last month or so it may be easy to forget that Wednesday night’s friendly with Egypt is the last before England Head Coach Fabio Capello names his provisional World Cup squad. This should be the main focus of the nation rather than the John Terry-Wayne Bridge fiasco, but with goings on at Stamford Bridge last weekend it is still that rather than vital World Cup preparations which has the nation talking.
Monday’s training session will have provided Capello with his first chance to address the collective members of his squad and it is certain that this issue will have been one of the first ports of call for the Italian as he tries to repair the spirit within the camp. Indeed Wayne Rooney has already spoken out to try and achieve unity between players and fans too, as he urged England supporters at Wembley on Wednesday not to boo Terry and get behind the team.
How the fans react to the Chelsea man will be clear for all to see and hear on Wednesday night but how the players react in their initial training sessions is less so. Whether Terry does have the support of the camp or whether there may be a division is something which Capello will have to work hard to understand and possibly alleviate. The last month has arguably provided Capello with his toughest test as England boss and even led to the first criticisms of the Italian’s style of management. Stripping Terry of the captaincy has been heralded by many as the right decision but it is in the opinion of this writer to publicly state that Terry will never again captain the side may be a poor decision. Capello is well within his rights to wish this to be the case but there was no need to state this publicly as it is simply throwing more flames on the Terry debate at a time when all the player wishes to do is concentrate on his football – something which the England Head Coach, considering Terry’s current form, should be wanting also.
With all the recent controversies it seems a long time ago since England secured their qualification for the World Cup and in truth a lot has changed since this point – most notably with the defence. Of the first choice back four only Terry is named in this squad. The newly appointed England captain Rio Ferdinand has only managed three games in four months for his club side, Ashley Cole has a personal life to match Terry’s and a broken ankle to boot and Glen Johnson, also injured, has shown himself to be lacking of certain defensive qualities since his move to Liverpool. Consequently the Egypt match presents the likes of Wes Brown, Matthew Upson and Joleon Lescott with a huge chance to impress. Both Stephen Warnock and Leighton Baines will be chomping at the bit as one, if not both of them, could secure a spot on the plane with a strong performance at Wembley.
The two performances against Croatia in qualifying have been seen by many as Capello’s best moments during his tenure as England Head Coach with both providing sterling performances by a right-sided midfielder. Since his storming performance at Wembley Aaron Lennon has become a forgotten man due to injury problems causing his omission from this squad which has possibly opened the door for the hero from this away tie against Croatia – Theo Walcott. It has been a disappointing season for Walcott who has struggled with both injury and form, but is likely to be given some form of opportunity to stake his claim on Wednesday night. However, both of these players could be usurped by a player seemingly all but forgotten by the Italian tactician. Shaun Wright-Phillips has been putting in some good displays for Manchester City and Capello will have been keen to note his performance at Stamford Bridge last weekend. Wright-Phillips has been strong coming from the bench for City when the game is stretched and could be viewed as Capello as a very dangerous weapon in this capacity. If neither Lennon nor Walcott can achieve a consistent run of form until the end of the season then it is possible that stepfather Ian Wright could be a very happy man come June.
One player who has been receiving as many column inches as Terry is Rooney – albeit for the right reasons – but with the Egypt game still comes some question marks over Capello’s decision in this area. Rooney may have been playing further forward for most of the season for his club side but it is since the turn of the year that he has really shown he has the ability to thrive in this role. Capello has often preferred to allow Rooney to drop deep and influence the play with the big target of Emile Heskey leading the line, but he has yet to have Rooney in a squad during his current wave of blistering form. Many feel that Capello should push Rooney further forward in the role he occupies for his club allowing another creative player to link with the midfield behind him. This would provide both Rooney and Steven Gerrard with the opportunity to play in the exact roles they occupy for their respective clubs to great effect. Considering the performance of Heskey in the Carling Cup final last weekend and the lack of another ‘world class’ forward this may provide the best option for England. If this is to be the case, the likes of James Milner will be feeling his place in the squad on the left side of midfield will all but be assured if he can continue his good form. The recent improvement in Rooney’s heading when provided with good delivery certainly won’t have escaped David Beckham’s attention and will be something he will wish to work on in this squad.
The Egypt match will provide many players with an opportunity to stake a claim and with so many regulars missing it is likely to create more questions than providing answers. One thing should be for certain, however, is that the focus will firmly be shifted back to the performance of the players on the pitch rather than their personal lives.