Tom Lappin's Sporting Week: Capello's uneasy honeymoon will end soon enough

BARCELONA is beautiful in September. The worst of the summer heat has dissipated, but the locals are still half on holiday, heading for the beach in the evenings. There are worse places to start a relationship. Not that Fabio Capello looks likely to enjoy an ongoing romance with England fans, or the English press.

His first meaningful match in charge of England on Saturday is not quite a competitive fixture, rather the awkward contractual obligation of a World Cup qualifier against the only duty-free shop with its own flag, Andorra. As he acknowledges, it's not a game from which his team can garner much credit, seeing as everybody expects England to win 8-0.

After last month's hapless display against the Czech Republic, the jury is not so much out on Capello as ready to condemn him, unless some plucky Henry Fonda type can persuade them of his probity. His default expression is one of bemused irritation, which suggests he has gone some way towards realising his job's frustrations.

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While he was still puzzling over the inability of Champions League finalists like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney to show anything like their club form in an England shirt, he was given a quick primer in the utter disregard of Premier League club managers for the national team. Having spoken at some length to the press about Steven Gerrard's role in the England line-up, he was eventually informed, a couple of days later, that Gerrard's role would involve nothing more strenuous than recuperating from a routine groin operation, contemplating the crucial visit of Manchester United on 13 September.

It's not that Rafael Benitez doesn't care about England's qualifiers. He probably has the international dates ringed in his diary as an important opportunity to sort out the minor niggles of his first team players. Similarly Sir Alex Ferguson takes a keen interest in England matches, if only because it presents a challenge to his creative powers in coming up with fresh excuses as to why his players won't be reporting for international duty. He probably strolls around Carrington humming that old Clash tune "its up to you not to heed the call-up".

This kind of thing never happened in Serie A, Capello reflected. Possibly because Serie A managers, with the occasional exception, have tended to be Italian.

Capello's woes are legion. The display against the Czechs suggests he has yet to find a middle ground between his own coaching inclinations, honed in Italy and developed in Spain, and the rougher realities of English football. Nobody expects him to inculcate a technically adept possession game overnight, but the early signs are that his ideas have left England players looking listless and confused.

Capello has signalled that he believes there is still plenty to be elicited from the old guard, that players like Lampard, Gerrard, even David Beckham have time to show they can still be effective internationals. The constant maelstrom of the English sporting press lurches between contemptuous condemnation of the overpaid superstars and an unwarranted assumption that they should see off the likes of Croatia. Capello's bafflement increases.

The 2010 World Cup should belong to Argentina, a nation that understands about organic development of coherent national teams through competitions like the Copa America and the Olympics. Capello has no such structural development in place at the FA, and no real opportunity to affect the mindset of his players in the limited time ahead of international matches. For a coach who prefers incremental planning to winging it, the job's impossibility will soon become apparent.

As England missed out on qualifying for Euro 2008 because of goalkeeping gaffes against Croatia home and away, perhaps Capello can take temporary consolation in knowing that England's best player, judged solely on present form, is the 38-year-old David James, whose display at Goodison on Saturday was impeccable. If the artist formerly known as Calamity keeps it together for England, Capello's uneasy honeymoon period might enjoy a brief extension. It will end in tears soon enough though.