From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.34 :: NO.38 :: Sep. 22, 2011

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FOOTBALL / LET'S BE FRANK

Capello must play mind games

It might seem churlish to talk about inconsistencies when England had recently beaten Bulgaria away and Wales at Wembley in competitive matches in the course of five days but the worryingly inadequate performance at home was followed by an even more concerning admission from coach Fabio Capello. Over to Frank Malley.

AP

England manager Fabio Capello makes a point to his players during the Euro 2012 Group G qualifying match against Wales at the Wembley Stadium, London.

When it comes to England football it is not difficult to find scapegoats.

Frank Lampard at 33 has given loyal service but is past his sell-by-date and no longer exudes the midfield influence of old.

Gareth Barry is too slow and immobile for the dynamic nature of international football at the highest level.

James Milner continues to look a tad short of international class.

All three could be air-brushed immediately out of England's plans, but does anyone seriously believe that would solve the inconsistencies which are at the root of Capello's struggles?

It might seem churlish to talk about inconsistencies when England have recently beaten Bulgaria away and Wales at Wembley in competitive matches in the course of five days but the worryingly inadequate performance at home was followed by an even more concerning admission from Capello.

Deep in the concrete bowels of Wembley after the Wales match the manager revealed he knew his players were not in the right frame of mind to perform before the game.

“I spoke with the players but it was impossible to change the things that I saw. Impossible,” he said.

Capello went on to point to his head. “The problem was here,” by which presumably he meant there, as in their heads, not his.

The inference was that the players were intimidated by expectation on home territory, but it was the admission by Capello of his impotence in the face of it which was most alarming.

Every sports coach knows, regardless of the miles players run, results come down to five inches. The distance between the players' ears.

Bill Shankly convinced his Liverpool players that Anfield was a “bastion of invincibility”. Sir Matt Busby encouraged freedom of expression at Old Trafford. Brian Clough honed the mental strength of average players at Nottingham Forest to such a level that they won back-to-back European Cups while Sir Alex Ferguson's ability as a psychologist, boring into players' brains at Old Trafford, is obvious.

A manager's job does not start and end with selection and tactics. It is about ensuring his players are in the perfect frame of mind.

How can Capello pick up his GBP6 million-a-year wages and admit he cannot raise the spirit and confidence of his players as they prepare for a crucial European qualifier?

The answer to that question perhaps lies at the root of England's problem. No one doubts Capello's desire to leave next summer with a trophy to show for his England experience.

Yet the Italian's communication skills appear to be getting worse rather than better if his English in press conferences, where he still requires the back-up of an interpreter, is anything to go by.

There is a weariness to his demeanour, too, and an exasperation when he tells of incidents such as the England player who took a throw-in down the touchline having been expressly ordered not to do so. It all adds up to a leader who does not appear to command the total attention or respect of his players.

One thing Capello cannot be accused of, however, is not trying to deal with the baggage his players brought home from the shambles of their World Cup display last summer.

He has brought into his squad players such as Jack Wilshere, Andy Carroll, Darren Bent, Scott Parker, Chris Smalling and Theo Walcott, none of whom went to South Africa. He has injected youth and energy and in Ashley Young and Stewart Downing has two players displaying penetration and creativity. He also has Arsenal's Wilshere and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard to return from injury.

Jettison Lampard, Barry and Milner, by all means, but that is not Capello's main task before facing the qualifying decider against Montenegro on October 7. That must be getting inside his players' heads.

***

Never say never is a good policy when discussing football.

But when QPR hint about the possibility of David Beckham at Loftus Road I think we can make an exception.

***

Lawrie Sanchez did well as manager of Northern Ireland, beating England and Spain during his spell in charge. There was something tawdry, however, about the way he slated current boss Nigel Worthington and touted for his old job back after Northern Ireland's 4-1 European qualifying defeat against Estonia.

“Everybody realises it is time for a change,” said Sanchez. “I have always said I would like to finish what I started. I would like the opportunity. I would like to return to Northern Ireland in the future.”

There are honourable ways of going about job applications. That wasn't one of them.

© PA Sport, 2011, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.



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