Steven Gerrard has been appointed England captain by Fabio Capello. Just the kind of uplifting news to sweep away the gloom as he saw the Premier League title slipping away from his embattled club. In fact, with the string of poor results recently, Liverpool is no longer a firm bet for Champions League qualification.
However, before Gerrard floats to cloud nine, the armband may change ownership anytime as there are a lot of candidates vying to be captain. To keep everyone on their toes, Capello will make a decision until just before England begin their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign in September.
He said: “Gerrard is not going to be a permanent captain and I am not going to name one before the first qualifier against Andorra. But he is an important player for the team, he can pass on things and inspire other players.”
The ball is now in Gerrard’s court and Capello needs to be convinced that he deserves an extended run as skipper. Of the 63 caps Gerrard has won so far, he was made captain six times, with England winning two and losing four of those matches. Needless to say, this is not reassuring at all.
Serious doubts abound over his ability to rally his mates and whether the miracles he single-handedly performed for his club can be replicated at international level. It will be a great service to himself too if he cut down on pre-match morale boosting talks, otherwise known as drivel, and focus more on the team’s performance. Acting gung-ho and then losing to the opponent makes him looks like a fool at the end of the day.
Capello will have a major headache, a pleasurable one though, when John Terry returns from injury. It is believed that Terry enjoys greater support from the players and remains a hot favorite to lead England. However, even if Gerrard fails to impress, Terry may still be bypassed unless he realizes who is the boss in this set-up.
Challenging Capello’s authority and indiscipline on the pitch will only cast him into the wilderness. There are other promising candidates like Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand who have been sounding off their intent and if they have strong performances to boot, there is no reason why they cannot feature as captain for friendlies. It is not surprising then that Capello is keeping his cards close to his chest.
The blueprint of success Capello has mapped for England is to incorporate a “winning mentality” in the underachievers, starting from Switzerland on Wednesday. When the first competitive match against Andorra comes along, Capello will have created a group of players that can play as a team under the same system that brought him glories at AC Milan, Juventus, Roma and Real Madrid.
The players have got a taste immediately of Capello’s iron fist when they were briefed on the ground rules governing their behavior while on England duty. Some of the “draconian” measures include a ban on using mobile phones outside their bedrooms and the exclusion of agents, wives and girlfriends from the team hotel.
He said: “I set some rules because in three days we need to create a way of working. Our objective is to form a group that will gel together.”
“These last two days we worked very hard on the tactical front, in order to create a group mentality and a way of moving on the pitch that reflects my ideas about football. I have seen very good cooperation from the players.”
Capello, speaking in Italian, parried the question about David Beckham’s exclusion from his first XI which denied him a 100th cap, by giving Golden Balls credit for Real Madrid’s successful campaign last season while calling on the press to focus their attention on players in the current team.
The Italian is not yet confident to speak to the British media in the same language, for fear of being misinterpreted but he has delivered on his first promise by addressing the players in English during training sessions. Apparently, it was clear enough for several players to be impressed.
Capello is not expecting an easy ride from the joint Euro 2008 hosts. He accorded them sufficient respect by praising their players as well as their “dangerous” counter attack, nevertheless, I believe England should win comfortably against Switzerland.
With the remarkable achievements listed in his CV and the respect he commands from his player, he cannot afford to stumble, to lose a match, even if it is a friendly and then recall Beckham back into the team will reflect badly on him.
His approach so far is right - keeping the highly paid prima-donnas on a tight leash and if they step outside the markers, they have no business representing England. This is vital to changing their mindset as a “golden generation” who deserves to win trophies.
During Sven Eriksson’s and Steve McClaren’s reign, the focus was on the coaches who were not tactically astute enough to bring the best out of the players. The players did not take any responsibility for the failures. Fair enough if we are discussing about the ineptitude of McClaren.
However Eriksson has proven at Manchester City that his managerial capability is not blunted. He is able to lift a team used to battling relegation to a serious contender for European competitions. England could not benefit from his time in charge and the players have to examine themselves.
This time round, it is Capello in charge and with his credentials, he has nothing to prove, the onus is on the players to show their worth, if not, England is really a hopeless case and we should stop thinking of them as one of the footballing powers.