England v Bulgaria: 5 Things Fabio Capello Must Do To Save England
The World Cup was disappointing, but it has gone. While some fans will choose to spend the next four years in dismay, the England staff and players must move on. The 2014 World Cup is in the distance and is not the current issue for the England national team.
England have been handed a tough Euro 2012 qualifying group, and it is a group they will start this week in difficult circumstances. With a growing injury list, and off field publicity that makes Bill Clinton look like a solid family man, Fabio Capello must navigate England through to the 2012 European Championships, a tournament England has never won.
Before England kick off their campaign against a dangerous Bulgaria team, we look at 5 things that will help Fabio restore the roar to the Three Lions.
Win Back The Dressing Room
While winning back the faith of England fans will top many lists, that will not happen anytime soon. Far more important is for Fabio to unite and communicate with the set of players who take the field.
The Italian who was initially praised for his disciplinarian ways appears to now be questioned in regards to his man management. Anecdotal stories of him walking by players in the hotel hallways of South Africa without saying even a pleasant hello were common place.
Further evidence of a potential communication problem has mounted since the World Cup ended. Capello was in the Wembley Stadium royal box as the Manchester United and Chelsea players collected their medals. His handshake was snubbed by Ashley Cole, and he greeted Michael Carrick, who had just played with "I though you were injured." Capello then gestured that Carrick should have called him, a bizarre communication mix up at this level of the game.
The recent fiasco with Capello announcing David Beckham's enforced retirement without talking to Beckham himself also stunk of poor communication, and perhaps a little cowardice.
With John Terry seemingly desperate to continue being an alpha leader with his ill timed press conference, Wayne Rooney out of sorts and Rio Ferdinand to return soon sparking a potential captaincy issue with Steven Gerrard, the England dressing room is not a united front.
Capello must find a way to connect with his players on an emotional level, to unite the group behind a common cause. Only then will the England team display the pride and passion required for them to succeed.
Turn To Youth
England looked heavy legged and weary as they were torn to shreds by a youthful and vibrant Germany team. Youth provides the benefit of new talent, as well as the psychological edge of freshness, and comfortable veterans being either pushed to higher levels, or being replaced.
England have a host of young talent ready to at worst push the incumbent players in the lineup, and at best bring a high level of pace and ability into the setup.
Joe Hart, Adam Johnson and Jack Wilshere are among the exciting young talents in the English game. Theo Walcott missed the World Cup but announced his desire to remain involved with an early season hat trick against Blackpool.
In the goalkeeping department, Hart gives Capello a solid option at goalkeeper, and could bring stability to a problem position for years to come. The fact Hart has beaten out the excellent Shay Given to the Manchester City starting job, speaks well of his talent level.
Walcott and Wilshere see significant time in Arsene Wenger's excellent Arsenal team, and Adam Johnson is a lightning rod in attack, capable of both beating defenders and providing a quality end product.
Play Two Holding Midfielders
While some may complain about the entertainment value, the effectiveness of the double holding midfielder system is beyond question. Germany and the Netherlands employed the system with great success during the World Cup, and even champions Spain employed three central midfield players, even if in a slightly more attack minded setup.
Two holding midfield players allows teams to attack more confidently without the threat of being ruthlessly exposed on the counter attack. If you doubt why a 4-4-2 is not quite as effective, merely watch the second half of England's 4-1 demolition at the hands of Germany.
England have two excellent players in Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard but they are both attacking players. The notion they get box to box at lightning pace and perform excellent defensive and attacking duties is a myth. They are both excellent at joining the attack, but if they go up and lose possession asking them to sprint back 50 or 60 yards to deal with a counter attack is playing away from their strengths.
If England were to employ 2 holding midfield players, the likes of Gerrard, Lampard and Walcott or Johnson could be given a more attacking role that will play to their strength, and allow them to support Wayne Rooney in the attack.
Gareth Barry is one obvious candidate for holding midfield, Owen Hargreaves would be an obvious choice if healthy, or young Jack Rodwell at Everton is a star in the making.
Opposing teams will have a tougher time getting quality balls into the feet of their strikers against a shield of Barry and Rodwell.
Adopt An Underdog Mentality
While England are not the underdog in every game they play, there is an upbeat aspect to the underdog mentality crucial to success. Too often, England win games only for fans to say the opposition was "useless anyway," and players to move on to the next game mentally.
It is not weakness to take joy in victory. Rather than focusing on the future every second, England must develop a team mentality that focuses on the present and current problems, whether they be a game against Bulgaria, or a practice session working on a certain formation. Taking heart from current success is much more healthy than talking about a tournament that is years away, or an opponent that England will not face for over a year.
England should be hard to beat, employ a five man midfield and look to be strong defensively and win the possession battle. If this is achieved, the likes of Rooney, Johnson, Gerrard and Lampard have the ability to win games with moments of brilliance.
Such is the appeal of England, the games and players are analysed and picked apart to a silly level. Regardless of who starts, or any peripheral matter, the only way England can move forward is to win games.
It does not matter how entertaining they are, how entertaining were Greece at Euro 2004? It does not matter if the wins are classified by fans as lucky, did Italy not have some luck in 2006? All that matters is England do all they can to win as many games as they can.
If that is done, a nation will slowly turn back to optimism and the team could yet go down in history. If not, Fabio's reign could be extremely difficult over the next few years if he is not fired.