Belfast Telegraph

James Lawton: Fabio Capello did himself a favour in avoiding latest foretelling of England's bleak future

Fabio Capello has been castigated for his absence at England's exit from the European Under-19 Championships but how much punishment can a man who has grown up with certain basic football qualities, like controlling and passing the ball in reasonably coherent fashion, take in one long summer of discontent?

Maybe at £6m a year Il Capo might have put himself through a little more purgatory as young Spain at times exquisitely exposed once again the technical inadequacies of the English game.

But let's get to the real point. Capello was not hired to remodel England's football and conduct the kind of overhaul of tactics and skill which might best be executed with a hose-pipe. He was employed to deal with the consequences at the national level and if we all know the result in South Africa last month we also know that hounding him as a scapegoat is the worst kind of escapism.

Capello made his mistakes in South Africa – but what he is still probably trying to absorb by the shore of Lake Lugano is the stark gap between the culture of the English game and the rest of Europe. While irrigated by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres and other foreign stars, the Premier League captured a world-wide audience, but when the home product – which at an average of just 33 per cent of league selection is Capello's entire talent pool – is isolated and asked to represent the nation the results have become progressively desolate.

So it was in France yesterday when Spain flooded a game England's defence at will. A score of 3-1 was more a tribute to English grit than Spanish ascendancy, which was increasingly explicit and coloured by three goals of the highest, and in one case, most exotic quality.

If Capello had the nerve to tune in, his worst fears about the paucity of the production line which has to supply England's international future – and the next two years of his professional existence – were surely confirmed.

Spain's third goal, fashioned by an outrageous piece of dead-ball skill which saw Thiago Alcantara clear the wall and Sergio Canales peel off it for the killer touch, was the artistic highlight but it was the second goal which spoke of the vast division existing between the teams.

The Spanish rolled the ball around the field for several minutes, breaking, feinting, checking, and with never the semblance of a chance of losing possession, before Keko drifted into the box with an assassin's instinct.

This was a more fecund version of the football that put all the rivals of their senior team in chains in South Africa and made the desperate cries of the England coach Noel Blake for his young men to "put pressure on the ball" seem like the last words in wishful thinking.

England played, as you would expect, with impressive determination and they did have one player on the field who did not look completely out of place. This was Aston Villa's rangy striker Nathan Delfouneso, who from time to time applied a degree of pressure to the least impressive area of the Spanish team: its central defence. Still, the big man was rarely able to truly bridge a gap that at times became embarrassing. Substitute John Bostock provoked some fleeting hope in the first half, when he scored England's goal with fine opportunism, but it was overwhelmed soon enough by the sheer facility of the Spanish players.

Just to compound the English desperation, there was only one player on the field with Premier League connections who looked entirely ready to face the challenge of football at its highest level. This was the scorer of a first goal of sublime confidence, Liverpool's Daniel Pacheco.

It hardly needs saying that this latest evidence of Spanish brilliance flows from roughly 20 years of concerted application in the crucial matter of teaching young players the fundamentals, and the beauties, of the game and the creation of a system where values are maintained through every level of a player's development. Meanwhile, the Football Association and the Premier League fight their civil wars while the national game withers on the vine. Maybe Capello should have been in France but what purpose would he have been serving? It is surely a little late for mere window-dressing.


Belfast Telegraph


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