Has Fabio Capello Lost the Plot with Latest England Squad Selection?
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Yesterday afternoon, Fabio Capello included four uncapped players in his latest England squad to face Laurent Blanc's France in a friendly at Wembley next Wednesday evening.
Top scorers in the Championship and Premier League, Jay Bothroyd and Andy Carroll's inclusions were widely predicted in the media. It was also a memorable day for Jordan Henderson, who won his place with a series of industrious displays at the heart of the Sunderland midfield.
However, it was the other inclusion and the further announcement just a few minutes ago that will raise eyebrows and lead to many questions about Capello's thinking and criteria.
Firstly, the Italian handed a place to Manchester United's newest defender, £10 million former Fulham man Chris Smalling. Then, we discovered that the management had decided to call up West Ham United forward Carlton Cole.
Defenders such as Rodger Johnson and Liam Ridgewell and forwards like Kevin Davies should feel particularly aggrieved at their omission, given that it is they who have displayed better form for their clubs than Smalling and Cole.
Smalling has, in fact, only started two league matches for United this year. Carlton Cole has one goal in 13 appearances for bottom team West Ham and was guilty of a glaring miss again this season.
Which is Capello's most surprising squad selection for the France match?
There were two other notable absentees: Tottenham's midfielder Tom Huddlestone and Aston Villa winger Stewart Downing, excellent yet again yesterday against Manchester United, who he tormented with a mixture of speedy runs and tricky crosses.
Both have featured in recent squads, neither has compromised future selections with below-par performances.
And were yesterday's squad to have been based purely on form, a criterion which Capello said he would use first and foremost when he signed a contract with the F.A., it is puzzling that Newcastle midfield duo Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton and Aston Villa starlet Marc Albrighton have been ignored.
So just what does Capello hope to gain from some bizarre selections? Will he yet again realize that Carlton Cole is barely up to the task of performing in the Premier League let alone on the international stage? Will it dawn on him that Ashley Young, Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards have taken a step sideways from when they first caught the attention of Capello with their displays not only of potential but also of quality?
I hope for Capello's sake that his bizarre squad, which includes six centre-backs but only two full-backs and three forwards with similar strengths, repays the questionable faith show in them, that Carlton Cole pulls a magic rabbit from hat and Young can make his potential counterpart Franck Ribery look like a one-trick pony.
Yes, it is a game which lends itself to some experimenting and, with key players such as Jermaine Defoe, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney sidelined through injury, it is important that younger players who have shown signs of developing into mature, responsible and skillful Premier League players be given a fair crack of the whip.
But when players who have clearly had and blown their chance and those who have not even merited theirs are selected above and before those who have excelled more than more expensive and glamorous colleagues and opponents, it is the duty of the national press and the fans to call into question the reasons behind such a decision.
There are no clearer examples of when an overzealous approach to experimental squad selection can have a negative impact on performances and results than when Martin Johnson took over the helms of the national rugby union team or when Peter Moores faffed around with his cricket team and lost the respect of several key players.
There are also lessons to be learned from how new England cricket coach Flowers has reaped the rewards of a more settled squad, which is still geared towards success in the medium- and long-term success. It might have taken a year to see his decision bear fruit but his team won the ICC Twenty-20 World Cup this summer and are about to embark on an Ashes tour in Australia in a buoyant mood.
Time is running out for Capello in the build-up to his last major championship at the helm of the Three Lions team—it is decision time.
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