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…on Capello picking Davies

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Kevin Cyril Davies - Looks more shocked than anything


England’s last Euro 2012 qualifier of 2010 is upon us, with opinions hardening against Fabio Capello’s reign as England manager.  The press reaction to Capello seems to be mirroring the tenure of Graham Taylor, with this summer’s World Cup being the most disappointing performance from an England team at a major championships since Euro ’92, where nineteen Englishmen and Tony Dorigo went out with a whimper rather than a bang.  Fortunately for Fabio, his face is yet to be placed upon a root vegetable. Euro ’92 was also the pinnacle of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it international career of Keith Curle. Matthew Upson’s England career appears to have taken a similar downward path.

However, the problem concerning everybody has not been at the back but at the front.  Kevin Davies’ inclusion in the squad will be to the consternation of pub quizmasters nationwide, now having to remove him from the list of eight English players to have cost over £7m in a single transfer and never having represented their country at a senior level.  He has always been a favourite of some in the press, continually citing him as England’s best target man, though that feels like he is being damned with faint praise.  We haven’t had a classy big man since Alan Shearer and the decline in Emile Heskey’s pace and his subsequent international retirement has made it a choice between bruisers or flaky big guys who don’t play their height.

It could be argued Davies’ call has come two years too late.  Davies was at the peak of his goalscoring powers two seasons ago, but my concern is the thinking that goes into picking an international debutant at the age of 33.  Over the last few months, we’ve seen debates about what went wrong at the World Cup and why we continue to fail at the highest level.  We have no overall plan, we don’t stand for anything, we’re not developing young players, the players we do have are overpaid and overhyped, and they’re aloof.  My favourite one is when people say “oh it’s the same bunch of players that keep failing” as if that is a knock on the players. Capello fell into the same trap as McClaren and Eriksson, picking the same players who haven’t done it in the past, shoehorning them into a system rather than developing a team from the best players in each position. And that’s the key word; developing.

We’re stuck in between a rock and a hard place here.  Trevor Brooking’s out there trying to make things better in the youth game but, at best, our best young professionals are either at lowly, unfashionable Premier League clubs playing skill-destroying negative football. At worst, they sit in the reserve teams of big clubs, strolling around with a bunch of foreign mercenaries going through the motions or playing regularly in the Championship, the footballing equivalent of a banger race.  Fabio Capello was in the newspapers immediately after the World Cup swatting away the clamour for new bloody by saying the under 21s aren’t good enough. He no longer has the luxury of ignoring them.

Every once in a while, we get an elite young talent like Rooney and they get a game before they’re even regularly playing for their club, with Wilshere currently getting the same treatment.  Alternatively, a big club buys a player in his early-to-mid 20s, which bumps him up the England pecking order and the England coach will take him seriously as somebody to develop as an England player.  What we don’t have is a development plan to take decent, reasonably-talented young players into the England international system and develop them into what we need. Sure, this isn’t cricket or rugby when international coaches get a lot of access to players but other highly-ranked footballing nations have some kind of mechanism to do this.  They also have the luxury of a league that supports them.  We have neither and, as a result, we don’t have the same set of problems as other large footballing nations.   International football is now a game played mainly by younger players.

To me, it seems like we’ve become the biggest minnows in world football. We’re now Northern Ireland or Wales on steroids, certainly not Germany or Spain. We need a plan to maximise our footballing resources. We need an idea of where we’re going.  The problems we face now and will face over the next ten years are those that face lower-ranked nations or nations where football is not the main sport, not a football-mad nation with one of the richest leagues in the world. It’s a tough ask and a difficult fix.

I’m not sure where to start tackling this problem.  The sad truth is we’ve failed players. We’ve failed them at schoolboy level, we’ve failed them at youth level and then we’ve failed them again as young professionals. Those that have come through seemed to do so despite the system rather than because of it. Ashley Cole was second fiddle to Silvinho until mutterings about a fake passport and a broken leg gave him a chance at Arsenal’s left back slot and even then, Cole was consistently underrated and undervalued by Wenger and Arsenal’s hierarchy to the point where he openly negotiated with rival clubs.  Trevor Brooking seems to be trying to fix schoolboy football.  Better quality young players can reach greater heights when they’re professionally trained and it is felt that our European Championship-winning under-17s were the best crop we’ve had for years.

My fear is that nobody has really grasped what the England job has become, least of all Capello, and this doesn’t bode well for the medium-to-long term future. It might not even bode well for Euro 2012 qualification.  For instance, player quality can differ vastly from position to position. In the last ten years, a succession of England managers have played central midfielders on the left side of a midfield four and centre forwards or right wingers on the left side of a front three. At one point, Eriksson even tried playing a Wayne Bridge on the left side of midfield, which actually worked quite well though Eriksson, ever the self-saboteur, only tried it once.

One thing they didn’t try was to consistently play the most promising and capable left midfielder. Excuses were made instead. The player isn’t international class, he’s not ready yet. How can these players get ready or be international class when they’re not given the chance to grow into the position. First it was Downing, now it’s Johnson. Whether either of them are good enough is a moot point; they are the best we have in that position and they should be played, even if Johnson’s being shunted over to the right side of a three for his club. Capello has been blinded by having a number of attacking central midfielders at top clubs but no wide midfielders or ball winners. McClaren and Capello faced the Gerrard/Lampard problem; Eriksson also had Scholes in the mix. So we get Steven Gerrard playing left wing so that he’s in the team and the team suffers because there’s no balance.  We need to get the mechanism that gives the decent young player a chance to develop working and focus it to improve us where we are weak.  Maybe we’ll get a more balanced side.

As disastrous at the World Cup was for England, it may have even been fixable with a working defence. We lost to Germany not because our players didn’t play futsal as a kid or because their under-9s coaches didn’t have a UEFA “A” License, we lost because we needed pace and organisation at centre back, where we were slow and had no organisation. Injuries have decimated Rio Ferdinand and left him a shadow of his former self. However, he’s still the only defensive leader we have and the only centre back regularly picked by Capello who has pace. John Terry was made England captain for media reasons, not because he is a defensive organiser and this is self-admitted. Upson is not known for his organisation either and seems to play the game in silence. Both are hardly fleet of foot and Upson struggles when anybody runs at him. This was obvious from early on and given Capello only took slow centre backs, the only option was play with a sweeper. No thought was given as to who would provide the pace in Ferdinand’s place. Going forward, we need to find a new defensive organiser and we need to find somebody with pace. In the latter case, Gary Cahill seems to be the quickest of the current bunch sniffing around the England squad.

Three months on, Capello is picking Kevin Davies, showing the same reactive, short-term thinking that has got us into trouble too many times in the past.  Fabio doesn’t know where we’re really going.  He has no idea what this job is or what is the best way to go about it.  We’re wasting another two years with a system in decline.  The time to turn it all around is now but the problem is we’ve yet to hit bottom.  Until we do, we’re not going to get the kind of change that harnesses everything we have and at that point, we can actually move forwards, not incrementally backwards.


Written by Michael Farrow

October 7, 2010 at 5:41 pm

One Response

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Farrow, Big Nige. Big Nige said: The not-so-long awaited return! …on Capello picking Davies: http://wp.me/pYYZG-1a #premierleague #capello #england […]

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