Capello’s England squad: Will evolution be given time to succeed?

Fabio Capello announced his first post-World Cup squad last night, for Wednesday’s friendly against Hungary. It included just 10 of the 23-man squad from South Africa. While it is certainly a step in the right direction, it is far too early yet to draw any definitive conclusions as to whether this represents a definitive and permanent shift in selection policy by the England head coach.

Jack Wilshere

Kieran Gibbs

As yet, a squad which includes the uncapped trio of Kieran GibbsJack Wilshere (both Arsenal) and Fulham striker Bobby Zamora is no more meaningful than Sven-Göran Eriksson‘s selection of Theo Walcott for the 2006 World Cup. If that eyebrow-raising choice was the Swede’s attempt to deflect attention from his largely conservative selections and tactics, it was ultimately one he failed to follow through on in practice as a sparkless England exited the tournament while Walcott sat on the bench gathering dust on his boots.

The inclusion of Zamora and Gibbs represents a fairly logical progression. The 29-year old Fulham player had already impressed Capello last season, and was among those who narrowly missed out on the World Cup. Although he only scored eight goals in 26 Premier League games last season, an impressive return of nine in 14 matches en route to the Europa League final, which included victories over Roma and Juventus, suggests he is capable of being productive on the big stage. Arsenal’s 20-year old left back had already been staking a strong claim to be Ashley Cole‘s deputy before suffering a season-ending injury, and his inclusion now means he is likely to adopt this role going forward at the expense of Leighton Baines and Stephen Warnock.

The most interesting choice by far, though, is Wilshere, who may be to Capello what Walcott was to Eriksson. The 18-year old midfielder impressed during his loan spell at Bolton last season, and again at the pre-season Emirates Cup last weekend, but is yet to command anything more than an occasional cameo appearance in an Arsenal midfield which features the talents of captain Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky, Andrey Arshavin, Walcott and the recovering Aaron Ramsey. How Capello handles the introduction of Wilshere will be instructive as to his views on abandoning known experience for the unpredictability of youth. No one is expecting him to walk straight into the England starting line-up – if he did, it would be a damning indictment of English talent given his position in his own club’s pecking order – but it will be interesting to see whether he gets any playing time on Wednesday, and whether he continues to feature when Capello picks his squad for the first Euro qualifier against Bulgaria on September 3rd, and beyond.

Other notable call-ups include recalls for Walcott, Adam Johnson and Ashley Young (at the expense of Joe Cole, Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips), and second chances for strikers Darren Bent and Carlton Cole (with the Spurs duo of Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch dropped). Defensively, Ashley Cole, John Terry and Glen Johnson retain their places, but otherwise the rest of the line-up has been jettisoned, with Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill and Wes Brown drafted in. And David James and Robert Green – the two goalkeepers used by Capello in South Africa – are no more, with Joe Hart likely to be promoted to the number one shirt, and Ben Foster serving as understudy. Paul Robinson was also selected, but announced his international retirement within hours, stating that he did not wish to be included as a third choice keeper.

So now we know the cast of characters for the dress rehearsal, and we will get an early indication on Wednesday of whether Capello is looking for revolutionary change or a more gradual evolution. Even then we will not know for sure how things will pan out until we have seen the squad and starting 11 for the Bulgaria match next month.

Hopefully against Hungary we will see a sensible mix of the young and the old, an encouraging performance and – least importantly, but still usefully – a win. What we don’t want to happen is for one of the two following nightmare scenarios to unfold:

Worst-case scenario 1: Capello opts for his most experienced available 11, and gives a couple of the youngsters a token 10 minutes at the end. England win comfortably against a mediocre, poorly motivated Hungary side. The media obsequiously compliments Capello on recognising the importance of experience and not throwing the baby out with the bath-water. Result: Capello reverts to the tried and tested formula for the Bulgaria game, drafting the likes of Cole, Defoe, Wright-Phillps and Matthew Upson back in and jettisoning the youngsters back from whence they came.

Worst-case scenario 2: An experimental team heavily featuring the new and fringe players puts in a performance which shows flashes of potential but is understandably stuttering. England lose to a fired-up, full-strength Hungary side. The media is thrown into uproar, stressing the importance of winning and a fast start to the Euro qualifying campaign. (The Sun immediately starts a ‘Save Joe Cole’ campaign.) Result: Capello reverts to the tried and tested formula for the Bulgaria game, drafting the likes of Cole, Defoe, Wright-Phillps and Upson back in and jettisoning the youngsters back from whence they came.

You just know it would happen too.

The thing is, it is not just Fabio Capello who will be tested in the coming weeks in terms of his resolve and willingness to change. The same is true of both the media and us, the fans. If anything, it is the attitudes of these two groups, even more than the England coach, where the process of evolution needs to happen the most and also the most quickly. We all have our role to play: patience, as they say, is a virtue. Everyone needs to take a deep breath and remember that evolution does not happen overnight but inevitably leads to improvement, whereas revolution, though quicker, is often less effective in the long run and invariably results in considerable bloodshed along the way.

England expects. But is should not expect immediate success. More haste, less speed.


England 23-man squad:

Goalkeepers: Ben Foster (Birmingham), Joe Hart (Manchester City), Paul Robinson (Blackburn)

Defenders: Wes Brown (Manchester United), Gary Cahill (Bolton), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Michael Dawson (Tottenham Hotspur), Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), John Terry (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Aston Villa), Ashley Young (Aston Villa), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

Forwards: Darren Bent (Sunderland), Carlton Cole (West Ham United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Bobby Zamora (Fulham)

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