Capello hails Young, talks new formation
After a very satisfactory nine days, Fabio Capello sent his England players back to their clubs and warned there is still plenty of work ahead before they can claim a place at UEFA EURO 2012. Weekend results in Group G now make it virtually certain the battle for an automatic slot is between England and Montenegro.
Last night's superb friendly with Ghana indicated Capello will have far more options at his disposal at the continental finals, should the Three Lions qualify, than he had at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. But the Italian is not getting carried away.
England's next commitment is against Switzerland at Wembley on 4 June, with the final three qualifiers to follow next term, culminating in that potentially make-or-break trip to Montenegro in October. And Capello is looking no further than that.
"We still need to play four games," he said. "That is a lot of points. I don't know what will happen in the future. It is a long way to arrive at EURO 2012. But at this moment I am relaxed. I like being here and we are in a good position."
There were some negatives for Capello but they are mainly centred around a testy relationship with the media, which reached a crescendo in the build-up to the weekend win over Wales. Even now, there has still not been a satisfactory answer given as to why Rio Ferdinand has not had the courtesy of a personal conversation with his manager about the decision to remove him as skipper.
However, as the Manchester United centre-back has clearly moved on, judging by his Twitter postings encouraging England, it is probably time for everyone else to. And that allows a very positive assessment of Capello's squad, with Aston Villa's Ashley Young once again showing he is one of the most improved players around.
"All the players played well," observed the 64-year-old. "But Ashley Young is one of the most interesting players this season."
Rather than be restricted to the wing, where he has spent most of his career, Young has been released into more central positions at Aston Villa this term. Capello has seen how effective the 25-year-old has been and has followed Gerard Houllier's lead, resulting in the former Watford player's best three England displays all coming in 2011.
"In this position he is free," said Capello. "His movement on the pitch is really good at all times. He is a danger when he receives the ball because technically, his vision on the pitch is excellent."
Clearly, Young was not alone in impressing. Jack Wilshere may not have stood out in last night's 1-1 draw, but in a sense that was further proof of how effectively the 19-year-old has adjusted to the senior scene. With four caps to his name - and three successive starts - the Arsenal starlet looks like an old hand, finding the groove of England's play with ease and benefiting from Capello's decision to install a dedicated defensive midfielder to screen the Three Lions' defence.
That offers Wilshere the freedom to play his normal game in a new system, which looks to the naked eye like a very complex 4-1-2-2-1, but according to Capello is something rather more simple. "Plan A is 9-1," he said. "This is the new football. The new system is to go forward with a lot of players and to defend with nine.
"You have to be compact. Barcelona and Arsenal do it. If you want to win back the ball, you have to defend with a lot of players and attack the same. The players did not convince me to do it. I decide everything myself."
It is almost tempting to declare the death of 4-4-2, apart from the presence of one notable exception. "Manchester United still play 4-4-2. They won something didn't they?" said Capello. "Every style is good if the players are fit and focused on the game."