Fabio Capello's England Are a Relic From a Bygone Footballing Era

Sports WriterCorrespondent IOctober 13, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12:  Manager Fabio Capello of England gives instructions from the touchline during the UEFA EURO 2012 Group G Qualifying match between England and Montenegro at Wembley Stadium on October 12, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Football is a constantly improving and evolving sport but Fabio Capello's England are not; tactically, Capello's team look like a relic from a bygone era.

While other sides are adopting fluid, flexible formations, the English national team are still clinging to a hopelessly outdated system.

Very few top class teams in the world are persevering with the old fashioned 4-4-2 formation with two conventional wingers; Arsenal, Chelsea and Barcelona all play variations on the theme of 4-3-3, while Manchester United and Real Madrid fluctuate between the two formations but seem to play better football when they employ three central midfielders.

Capello feels that 4-4-2 is the best system for England despite a series of results to the contrary. While top teams all over the world are coming to the realization that they need three central midfielders in order to compete in the modern game, England are still employing the same tactics Terry Venables used at Euro '96.

The England manager obviously believes that the only way his side can win matches is to play a big centre forward with a couple of wingers to supply ammunition to him, despite the fact that there is no recent precedent for a side feeding their front men a strict diet of long balls and crosses to enjoy success at an elite level.

In the top tier of English club football, this approach is becoming increasingly antiquated, yet the national team seems determined to embrace it; the paucity of England's ambition was perfectly demonstrated by Capello's first substitution.

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With 20 minutes to go and his side persistently unable to forge any clear cut openings, the England manager decided to bring off one "big man" striker, Peter Crouch, and replace him with another "big man" striker, Kevin Davies.

Plan A was quite conspicuously not working so Capello's solution was to try plan A again, only this time with slightly different personnel.

Davies did exactly what you would expect him to do: he committed a couple of fouls, got fouled himself and won a few headers.

What Davies did not do was bring England any closer to scoring the goal which would almost certainly have won the game; meanwhile, one of the most creative English players in the game today was left kicking his heels on the bench.

Jack Wilshere may only be young but he has a vision and awareness which is well beyond his years. Wilshere is also one of very few English players who possesses the necessary ingenuity to unlock a stubborn defence.

The drag and back heel with which he set up Andrey Arshavin in Arsenal's Champion's League win over Partizan Belgrade showed the type of vision and technique which was conspicuous by its absence in England's performance last night.

With England struggling for any sort of cohesion, Capello could have pulled off Crouch, altered the tactics and given Wilshere an opportunity to shine; instead, he stuck resolutely to the tactics that had failed to produce any tangible results in the first three quarters of the game.

His second substitution was equally unimaginative: He replaced Ashley Young with Shaun Wright Phillips in a straight swap which did nothing to alter the flow of the game. There was no change in formation or tweaking of the tactics from Capello.

Instead, he stuck to the mistaken belief that Davies would succeed where Crouch had failed by eventually getting his head on something and allowing out of form Wayne Rooney to pounce.

Despite having a foreign coach, England appear to be being held back by the misconception that they should play football the "English" way.

This almost always seems to mean playing 4-4-2 with two out and out wingers and a big one/little one combination up front; meanwhile, the rest of the world is embracing fluid, flexible formations which almost always involve at least three central midfielders. 

There was a time when wing backs and sweepers were all the rage but there is barely a manager in top class football who would be willing to countenance using three central defenders in 2010—just as the 3-5-2 formation slowly lost its allure in the 90s, the 4-4-2 formation is beginning to fade.

You would hope that with their highly paid continental coach England would be at the forefront of this tactical revolution, instead they are clinging to the past.

The era of the battering ram centre forward is coming to an end as teams look to more intelligent, inventive players.

Instead of embracing this process, Capello's England are stubbornly resisting it and the results are there for all to see.