Capello - The verdict
Early promise for new England era
By Rob Parrish. Last Updated: 07/02/08 11:31am
Capello: Encouraging start
Fabio Capello's first 90 minutes at the helm provided just as many questions as answers for an expectant nation of England supporters.
In truth, it is utterly impossible to establish England's potential to become world-beaters from a 2-1 victory over a second-rate Switzerland side, but that appears to be what some fans demand.
The smattering of booing which broke out around Wembley just 35 minutes into Capello's reign proved how instant gratification would be the only way to please some of the more fickle followers of the Three Lions.
England had looked completely out of sorts for the vast majority of the opening period, but it must be remembered that a much-changed line-up were playing a new system in their first match under a new coach, who had spent a matter of hours with them on the training field.
And how a half-fit David Beckham, whose chosen career path to a third-rate league has taken him further away from the standards required to perform at international level than ever before, would have improved the performance is unclear.
The one obvious sign from Capello's first game is that he selects his squad on form, not reputation.
With Beckham nowhere to be seen and Michael Owen left kicking his heels on the bench for 90 minutes, two established stalwarts of the national side for the past decade, the message was clear.
Instead, the likes of Jermaine Jenas, Wes Brown, Matthew Upson and David Bentley were given the opportunity to transfer their club form onto the international stage.
Jenas blossomed after his goal, prior to which he had been largely anonymous, while Brown and Upson looked nervy but deserve a second look. And the shaven-headed Bentley provided dangerous crossing ability in the No.7 shirt. Sound familiar?
In goal, the returning David James came within seconds of a faultless 90 minute performance, before producing his obligatory flap at a late cross in added time, a hallmark of his previous international outings. Fortunately, Switzerland could not capitalise.
At 37, James is not one for the future and his previous displays at this level do not inspire confidence. But this is clean slate time, and the other options are no more appealing.
Capello also proved that his team talks can be effective, even if his grasp of the English language is not up to demanded standard of some of the xenophobic In-ger-lund brigade.
After the tepid first half, where only Joe Cole's flash of inspiration for Jenas' goal raised the volume sufficiently to muffle the shouts of the players on the field, a different England emerged.
The patient approach remained, but the passing was crisper and with more purpose and a number of chances were created, only for Switzerland to threaten to spoil the party by equalising.
A swift response was required, and arrived with substitutes Peter Crouch and Shaun Wright-Phillips both involved, the Chelsea winger applying the finishing touch to Steven Gerrard's cross after the Liverpool striker's initial flick-on.
Wayne Rooney and Joe Cole - probably England's most consistent performer over the last two years - were comfortably the best players on the field and their combined talents will provide the attacking impetus for years to come.
The gifted duo can always create something from nothing, with their flashes of genius an essential component alongside the more traditional English traits of their team-mates, something a manager with the experience of Capello will already have noted.
The captaincy issue remains outstanding, with Gerrard handed the armband on the night and Capello insisting a full-time skipper will not be appointed until the World Cup qualification campaign comes around in September.
But the skipper's role is now surely the Liverpool midfielder's to lose, despite his continued protestations that he is merely minding it in John Terry's enforced absence through injury.
England are clearly capable of performing to a much higher standard then they displayed against a determined but limited Switzerland side, and it is up to Capello to bring the best out of a group of players who, despite their superstar status and Premier League plaudits, failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals.
The early signs are encouraging, but the real tests are still to come.