Fabio Capello: ‘Iron Sergeant’ or ‘Corporal Calamity’

The past couple of weeks have yet again done nothing to advertise the poisoned chalice that is the England managers job. However, I can’t help but feel that poor old Fabio the ‘Iron Sergeant’ Capello has brought this one upon himself.

Lost the plot?

It has been another tumultuous little period for the England boss, accused of going behind captain Rio Ferdinand’s back in handing the captaincy back to the much maligned John Terry. Capello of course is the manager and is entitled to make such decisions but his judgement is rightfully coming under question yet again.

Think back to pretty much all major moments in his tenure and there is one beacon of hope there for all to see. Ex and now reinstated skipper John Terry was caught out for his immensely disruptive off-field antics and was relieved of his duties. This decision to highlight and make an example of poor behaviour was met with a very positive media and public backing. Well done Fabio, brave decisions require brave men to implement them.

How ironic it is that the famed ‘Iron Sergeant’ has now reversed this decision then. Football management tends to be a pretty fickle business, but this is an incident which again has been met pretty unanimously by the media and the public. Moral panic is rife regarding the manor in which Rio Ferdinand has had the Captaincy stripped from him.

Will this decision see the end of a world-class defensive partnership?

Sure Ferdinand has injured pretty much ever since taking on the role, but if he is no longer your chosen leader then at least have the respect to let him know in adult fashion. Ferdinand himself has sailed too close to the wind on occasions in his career but has come out the other side a greater player and a better role model, a captain’s captain, a player who demands respect. It must then have come as a major disappointment to realise he was no longer his nation’s leader via the press. The ultimate embarrassment for a skipper who has not put a foot wrong in his brief time in charge.

Popular opinion seems to be that Capello’s latest decision reeks of regret and that it demonstrates a weakening mind-state of an under-pressure manager. But it is undoubtedly the manner of it that has caused greatest concern. Affairs like this, even in such a media-heavy country, should be carried out behind closed doors and only publicised when every one involved knows where they stand.

Capello has yet again been provided a chance to demonstrate authority and innovation. It is OK to have concerns over the welfare of the team when captain Ferdinand was such an liability in terms of fitness. But to hand the captaincy back to Terry after just “a year of punishment” when initially it was described as an “irreversible” decision appears an example of great frailty. Capello like so many England managers before him has not showered himself in glory thus far in his stint and to make such a misguided decision in such a misguided fashion will certainly not have aided public perception of his capabilities. When there are options such as Steven Gerrard available why would you turn to a controversial figure who is bound to divide opinion?

Why has Gerrard been overlooked?

My personal choice would be Scott Parker every time, but I am fully accepting that you can’t name a player captain if they aren’t an established member of the side. Personal agendas aside though Gerrard would appear by far the most popular and sensible decision. He has a proven record as captain of his club, he is passionate and he has captained England.

Terry may possess many skills that make him a very good on-field captain. But how Capello justifies this decision to the fans and players having gone back on his word is hard to fathom. I fear the damage is done already, and the England squad have been placed under unnecessary pressure to demonstrate what could be perceived as an artificial united front. England should and probably will beat Wales this weekend, but even if they do this has certainly been a case of great distraction at an important juncture in England’s qualification campaign.

Will the most open World Cup in memory serve up England’s greatest triumph?

England’s quest for the completion of an incredible year has this week reached the quarter-final stages of the World Cup. To complete the treble of Twenty20, Ashes and World Cup glory would have to be considered a year of unprecedented success, however, in order to achieve this they must first overcome Sri Lanka at fortress Premadasa.

England’s campaign thus far has been far from convincing. Defeats at the hands of associate side Ireland and the horribly out-of-form Bangladesh have called into question the fatigue-levels and mental state in the camp off the back of a busy winter, but England will know their work is far from done. They must keep in mind just how huger achievement it would be to complete this mission and that the end really is in sight. Their mentality in the bigger games has appeared committed thus far and that is the way things must remain.

England have demonstrated a major weakness against spin and the challenge of the master Muttiah Muralidaran, the famed ‘mystery-spinner’ Aganta Mendis and the in-form Tilekeratne Dilshan could well prove too much. ‘Murali’ and Mendis in particular can win this match single-handedly, couple that with the rampaging threat of Lasith Malinga and the task presents it’s own case. Though England undoubtedly boast match-winners too, it seems that Sri Lanka’s stars are far more fresh and in-form. In fact, some of England’s ‘X-Factor’ players such as Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad have already succumb to injury and left for home. Is it really possible for England to win this tournament without arguably their best one-day batsman and arguably their best one-day pace-man? The jury is very much out.

One thing is for sure, even if England do progress there is still a mountain to climb to win the tournament. With favourites South Africa the likely semi-final opponents and the prospect of the in-form Pakistan, hosts India, or reigning champions Australia waiting in the final it is clear for all to see that England are far from being crowned champions. Captain Andrew Strauss will be praying that the ‘dark-horse’ tag hanging round England’s necks at present will work in their favour as they seek some serious improvements going into these knock-out stages.

It has been a fantastic tournament so far, founded primarily upon the trials and tribulations of England’s campaign. They have been involved in arguably five of the greatest games of the tournament out of the six they have played, and have provided outstanding entertainment, if not any level of consistency. Players and fans alike will be hoping for victory this Saturday, but in truth I think the task is just too much for them. I tip Sri Lanka for victory and progression to a final against India. If this is the case then I believe India will rule triumphant on home-turf.

Whatever the outcome eventually is, it seems we are set for yet more excitement and hopefully a couple more surprises along the journey. England will hope to continue slipping under the radar and finding crucial victories from somewhere in the murky depths of the imagination, which so far they have stretched to it’s fullest extents. Perhaps only New Zealand are less favoured for glory, but Captain Strauss would be wise not to focus on this. They have one objective now and that is to win, we await to see if this is in fact achievable or whether it is more just a romantic pipe-dream.

Good but not good enough for England’s Grandslam chasers

Saturday evening saw a disappointing climax to England’s 6 Nations campaign, but lets not get too down about it. Indeed, the Grandslam was there for the taking against a previously out of sorts Ireland side, but all in all to have won the championship with an injury-hit and inexperienced side is still commendable.

Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll scores

The absence of England’s Captain, Lewis Moody, and Vice Captain Mike Tindall cannot be underestimated. A nervous looking England never got the bit between their teeth and struggled for a foothold, whilst the Irish turned the form-book in it’s head taking to the field in barnstorming fashion.

For the vast majority of the game the Irish appeared to have intimidated their opposition, with an admirably high intensity level matched only by their skill and clinical finishing. It was a performance of such high-class and control, epitomised by the young outside-half Johnny Sexton. His seeming lack of composure in pressure moments and inexperience have been highlighted in his more recent outings, but no such negatives were apparent this time out. What a luxury it is too for the resurgent Irish to have the hugely experienced dictator Ronan O’Gara there to call upon as the more than able deputy. His ten minute cameo demonstrated all you need to know about the Munster-man; passion, composure and a touch of real class under-pressure. His deft prod to the corner with the outside of his boot in the closing stages was nothing short of sublime, and conveyed beautifully the ‘midas-touch’ possessed by the Irish on the night.

England were however crowned champions of the tournament and have reason to celebrate this. It is an achievement perhaps not of the substance with which Grandslams are made of, but commendable nonetheless. The defeat itself must be taken as the Autumn defeat to South Africa was; a learning curve for an inexperienced squad striving to ensure they are ready to make an impression at the World Cup come this autumn.

The signs prior to today have been positive; the closing out of tightly contested matches against Wales, France and Scotland, and the clinical deconstruction of the Italians. Have no doubts that this defeat was a missed opportunity, but it was as much about Ireland’s rejuvenation as an attacking force as it was about England’s lack of nerve. All teams have good days and all have bad ones. This performance in isolation was well-below par, but Martin Johnson will do well to reinforce the positives to have come out of this campaign.

The fly-half partnership of starting 10 Toby Flood and class-act deputy Jonny Wilkinson has provided depth and balance, as has the emergence of youngster’s Tom Wood and Alex Corbisiero. Depth is so crucial when it comes to World Cup year and with the likes of Moody, Tindall, Tom Croft, Courtney Lawes and Andrew Sheridan ready to return in the Autumn it seems England have this base covered. The only major concern for the England selectors must be the consistently anonymous performances of Shontayne Hape, and the lack of alternative options in the centres, demonstrated by Matt Banahan’s pretty one-dimensional threat in the defeat.

Ultimately, it has been a good couple of months for ‘Jonno’s’ boys and it remains to be seen whether such promise can amount to a higher level of consistency. Never mind the disappointment of not quite finishing off the job, they have been leagues ahead of their Northern hemisphere competitors over the course of the tournament and appear to have to edge over the old-enemy Australia in recent times. The jury is out over whether we can compete with the All Black flair and the power of reigning World Champions South Africa, but with the exception of their most recent showing, England appear a force to be reckoned with.