During England’s flight here on Monday, Wayne Rooney informed Fabio Capello he was psychologically ready to play in Tuesday night’s challenging Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland. “He said he was focused,’’ Capello said.
All the headlines screaming about his private life would not distract him, Rooney reassured the coach. Having watched the striker in training, Capello had drawn the same conclusion. Rooney was ready. Capello could sense the determination to feature, to reach the place of sanctuary bounded by white lines. Rooney will either get a hat-trick or a red card at St Jakob-Park on Tuesday night.
At training there on Monday evening, Capello stood on the touchlines and watched as Rooney ran lengths of the pitch flanked by Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard and Everton’s Phil Jagielka as if seeking to wrap himself in a Merseyside comfort blanket.
“When he was on the pitch, he forgot any problems he has,’’ continued Capello. “It’s important to stay with the players, to stay together, and to play. The desire is that he will play very well. I admire that. It is good for us, for the England team.’’
Capello knows how poorer England would be without Rooney threading the type of passes that kept releasing Jermain Defoe through on goal against Bulgaria last Friday. “There is a chemistry between them at the moment,’’ said Capello.
So far, so pragmatic. “Rooney is an important player for England,’’ observed Capello, adding: “for the young people, for all English people.’’
Capello seemed to be acknowledging England’s No 10 was a role model. The Rooney story became lost in football’s moral maze again. Capello shrugged when asked whether he found all these tales of footballer excess wearying. “Look, I have to be ready for everything in my job.’’
At times on Monday an exasperated Capello just let his body language to do the talking. English scrutiny of public figures bemused him. He leaned back in his chair at a city-centre hotel, then waved his hands about before finally finding some words. “It’s England,’’ he sighed. “It’s England.
“It’s the English newspapers. In the other countries it’s not the same. It happens with photographers sometimes.’’
Capello’s doctrine is this: he expects decorum from his players but will not drop them if they stray. “The players know what they have to do during their private lives – and they are their private lives,’’ he stressed. “For this reason the players know what I ask of them, usually. The players know the rules. But always for us, for the team what is really important is the performance on the pitch.’’ It is all about the result.
“Look, you have to divide the private life and the job.’’ In fairness to Capello, he is not paid £6 million a year for pastoral care of a few emotionally flawed young men. He is paid to get results and will instinctively pick shamed stars if they will do a job for him.
He was reminded that he had stripped John Terry of the England captaincy following unsavoury headlines. He even spoke at the time of his players needing to set a moral standard. So where did this leave his support for Rooney? Were double standards being applied?
“John Terry played all the games after what happened. I never suspended him, never. He played all the games. But he was captain and for this I changed the captain. It was only the armband I felt it was important to do that.’’
It is difficult to quarrel with Capello on the Terry issue. He handled it well, demoting him to the ranks, ensuring that the player was reminded that certain responsibilities went with the honour of captaincy. Capello slightly undermined his argument yesterday by adding: “He is still like a captain of the England team.’’ Maybe Capello realised Terry did not need the armband to be a leader.
Capello once spoke of Rooney being a potential captain of his country. “He’s not captain now,’’ said Capello and his icy tone reflected that such a badge of office as the England captaincy had to be a badge of honour.
An arch pragmatist like Capello simply took pleasure from Rooney’s last performance, from the striker’s creative influence on England’s 4-0 victory over Bulgaria. At Wembley, Rooney played just off Defoe, a role he will continue this evening, hoping to elude Stephane Grichting, one of the sentries of Switzerland’s famously obdurate backline.
“He will play in the same position because he really liked it,’’ said Capello. “He gets the ball a lot. He can be free to move around. It is a really important position. This position is really good for him. You can see how enthusiastic he is. He’s so technically strong and, passing the ball, he was excellent. He was just in front of the two central midfielders but when we win the ball he has to be in front of the goal.’’
Rooney’s versatility made him even more valuable to Capello. “Rooney played a lot of different positions. He’s played left in the Champions League. He’s played as a lone centre-forward, and he’s played in midfield.’’ Yet in the dismal summer in South Africa, Rooney saw far less of the ball. “In the World Cup, none of my players were at the same standard they’re at now. Physically and mentally.’’
Now England journey a new road, and the way to Euro 2012 will become more open if they can overcome the defensively-adept, counter-attacking Swiss. “They’re a team that play the counterattack very well, putting pressure on the ball very well,’’ warned Capello. “When they win back the ball, five or six players go forward very fast and arrive at the box. They play one-touch and are dangerous. They run a lot, press a lot. They’re a good team. It’s the most dangerous team.’’
He paused, reflecting on others in Group G. “Every game will be dangerous in the qualifiers. When you play in Wales it won’t be easy. When we play in Bulgaria the next time — they’re a good team — and also in Montenegro, it won’t be easy. This is a really balanced, difficult group. But it is a good time for the English team. The players are strong and psychologically, it is a good moment for them.’’
Capello has warned them of the need for absolute concentration tonight. “You have to be focused. You have to understand that every ball is important. If you lose the ball, you can lose the position on the pitch. If you lose the position, the opposition can capitalise. You have to be completely focused.’’ One mistake and Alexander Frei or Eren Derdiyok could pounce.
England will make one change with the injured Michael Dawson replaced by either Gary Cahill, who came on against Bulgaria, or Joleon Lescott, who is more familiar with Jagielka from their Everton days. Jagielka definitely starts following his excellent display against Bulgaria. “He’s in a really good moment. He’s the driver of the back-four – the marshal.’’ But all eyes will be an old Evertonian. Rooney must show his good side on Tuesday night. -Telegraph