Capello's four tops: Young, Agbonlahor, Milner and Huddlestone
12 June 2009 03:01
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A year before the start of the World Cup and Fabio Capello hasidentified four players he would like to see pushing for a permanentplace in his squad.
Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor, James Milner and, perhaps more interestingly, Tom Huddlestone have all impressed England's manager enough to make him think he would be happy to see them on the plane to Johannesburg next summer.
Now that's what you call a striker: Two-goal Rooney rewards Wembley fans with record Capello knows the team he would select for an encounter against much-fancied Spain. David James in goal; Glen Johnson, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Ashley Cole across the back four; Theo Walcott, Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Steven Gerrard across midfield with Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey up front.
But the quality of the squad could prove as important as the ability of the team, and it is the selection of the understudies that will occupy Capello's mind as much as anything over the next 12 months.
'I am really happy for Ashley Young,' said the Italian after watching the 23-year-old Aston Villa winger impress against Andorra on Wednesday night. 'He played the second game with me and tonight he played with confidence, like he does for Aston Villa. The other time he played with fear. I told him he had to play like he does with his team because other players can play in every moment.
'Milner was here with us. Agbonlahor also. I follow all the players and I have spoken to Stuart Pearce. Huddlestone is another. When I chose the last squad I was interested in Huddlestone but he was injured.'
England being England, there are bound to be injury problems. The last two World Cups have been severely disrupted by such setbacks and there is no reason why Capello should escape a fractured metatarsal or a pulled hamstring. Which is why the second XI remain so important. Is Robert Green the man putting pressure on James?
Who goes to South Africa as understudy to Johnson? A fit Gary Neville or perhaps even Owen Hargreaves, assuming he can recover from that serious knee condition and press for a place ahead of Barry? Should it be Milner who supports Walcott ahead of Shaun Wright-Phillips or Aaron Lennon? And does Young go as back-up for Gerrard?
Capello sees Huddlestone as someone who could play in the holding role if Hargreaves continues to struggle for fitness but his liking for Young, Agbonlahor and Milner reveals an emphasis on width and pace.
That is good news for England and evidence that, even after securing seven straight wins in this World Cup qualifying campaign, Capello is still striving for more, still looking for a level of performance that might just be enough to beat a team like Spain. And he is confident that even Rooney can contribute more.
'Wayne is young and he can improve,' said Capello.
'I accept it is more a case of going upwards a little bit from 90 per cent rather than 70 per cent but he can improve three or four per cent and that is important.
'I have been very happy with Wayne. This season he has done very well. He is in a fantastic moment right now and I hope he is the same next year.'
Capello added that he had identified other areas where there was room for improvement, saying: 'We need time but at the moment we are at a good level.
'I can say the confidence is the biggest thing that has changed. I can't change the level of the players. The manager can work with these players every day. He can improve everything. When you play with the national team, confidence is very important.
'We have confidence. That is the big difference. We have improved in every game. That is important.'
Capello was then asked about his own future - in particular, when it comes to what he will do after the next World Cup. He will have another two years of his contract to run and the FA are sure to want him to stay.
But Capello, 63 next Thursday, ducked the question. 'I am focusing on the World Cup,' not what happens after,' he said. 'I don't look at the future. It is too far.'
Right now, at least, the future looks bright.