Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Death, taxes and Capello's England

Fabio Capello's England squad comes with several un-surprises: Rio Ferdinand has been omitted, as has Liverpool's Steven Gerrard. Forgive me, but I need a couple of minutes to deal with that overwhelming shock. (Picks self slowly off floor). Injury has rendered Ferndinand a poor imitation of his former commanding self; Gerrard has played two matches off the bench for the season.

Again, Fabio Capello has failed to select form over reputation. Darren Bent or Bobby Zamora could start as Wayne Rooney's forward partner, especially given Capello's apparent disdain for Andy Carroll's lifestyle. Though Phil Jones has made the squad, Chris Smalling will not feature; neither will the demonstrably lethal Daniel Sturridge.

It is time to accept that only in the Three Lions is change not inevitable. Though Macedonia have played well - above expectation and even hope - their squad is the inverse of the England squad. Their unit is organized, motivated, have fewer skills and less cash. Don't give me the rubbish that England aren't motivated, even after the night which still plagues both Steve McLaren and Scott Carson's careers. Montenegro, who've played their football independently from Serbia only since 2006, has much more to gain than their established English counterparts.

This reason is why players like Sturridge, Welbeck and Smalling - Gaby Agbonlahor, for crying out loud - had to be featured in this match; each has something to gain from the exposure. One win (at home to England or away at Switzerland) will see Montenegro, granted nationhood from Serbia in 2006 and with the same population to Sheffield, secure a playoff spot for the 2012 European football Championships.

Of this, be very sure: the Montenegrin players care more about this match than the Three Lions. This is why Capello must be certain of selections; probably it is why he has erred to conservatism. Whether said nationalistic fervour is enough to counter players of a higher skill-set is why the matches are played.

England will face a team inspired by achievement while themselves facing public expectation bordering on verbal assault. The empowerment brought about by positive reinforcement is more stirring than fear of failure. The proof is in the pundit's bugbear Andy Carroll, who is yet to reproduce his Tyneside form for new club or country.

As well as reinforcing the generational change England so badly needs (Michael Owen and Joe Cole still talk about call-ups!), playing a front three of Rooney, Sturridge and Welbeck would scare almost any defence. That triad's pace alone would terrify most centre-backs, let alone the finishing skills all have shown this year.

Once again, England under Capello has missed a trick - and denied younger players the chance to prove themselves before a major tournament. Why should we expect any different?

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