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Page last updated at 08:26 GMT, Thursday, 27 March 2008

Capello's optimism masks reality

By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer in Paris

Fabio Capello's poker face is one of football's most familiar images.

But managing to keep his stern features straight in the bowels of Paris's Stade de France is arguably his finest achievement since taking charge of England.

Fabio Capello
Capello declared himself happy with England's performance in Paris

Rampant optimism and the ability to pluck pearls from muck is almost a pre-requisite for an England coach after the years of under-achievement.

Capello proved he has that quality in spades, heaping lavish praise on an England display lacking pace, life and invention as his side lost 1-0 to France.

He is nobody's fool, so behind the public face Capello's brow must surely have been furrowed at the mediocre nature of England's display.

And yet he declared himself happy with England's performance, pleased with their progress and more satisfied with the loss to France than he was with the victory against Switzerland.

It was a verdict that was greeted with widespread disbelief by those of us who had watched an England performance virtually devoid of positives.

No-one seriously expected Capello to sweep into his after-match inquest and take the big stick to his side in "heads must roll" fashion - but to say he erred heavily on the positive side is understatement on a grand scale.

There is no escaping the fact that Capello's analysis and that of almost every other observer bore little resemblance.

Capello has been keen to buy into the Football Association's "Respect The Ref" campaign - so keen that the mantra appeared to extend to the opposition as his players afforded far too much to a France side that was below strength and not on a par with the great teams of the past.

There are pluses.

Wes Brown should not survive at right-back. He is not international class in a position that is not his natural home

Capello has exerted instant authority, a fact underlined by the lack of pull-outs from the squad. He has the attention and respect of his players for every second of their time with him.

Now he must work on the fine details and two games into his tenure, it is clear there are key areas worthy of his attention.

As one Italian observer remarked, perhaps cruelly: "England do not just need an Italian coach - they need an Italian team."

England demonstrated a singular lack of pace, a fault only underscored by the speed of Nicolas Anelka and Franck Ribery in the French ranks.

Wayne Rooney looked uncomfortable in his isolated attacking role, with the plan to forge a partnership of sorts with Steven Gerrard - similar to the Liverpool captain's Anfield link with Fernando Torres - falling on stony ground.

Rooney is England's most naturally gifted player, but he needs a partner at international level. It is not quite so easy without Cristiano Ronaldo or Carlos Tevez.

Wes Brown should not survive at right-back. He is not international class in a position that is not his natural home. This is not a personal criticism, it is a statement of fact.

Capello must also perform the delicate balancing act of getting England's players to adopt his avowed passing style without losing the qualities that makes the manager pick them in the first place.

Liverbird's beak

England clearly made a conscious effort to pass in the first half, but it was passing for passing's sake. No end product and no serious threat.

Urgency and tempo is an integral part of the English psyche and it should not be sacrificed simply for artistic merit.

And surely, despite his delighted public assessment of his team, Capello is well aware of what is required.

The question marks placed against the performance in Paris must be viewed in the context of Capello's time in the job.

He has barely got his foot in the door of Soho Square. He is finding his feet with England's players as much as they are finding their feet with him.

Capello did not get the England job because they were the most powerful team on the planet.

He got the job because they had failed on a consistent basis when it mattered and needed an urgent overhaul.

The first steps in England's footballing culture shock were always going to be faltering - which may explain his charitable remarks on a poor performance.

But that still did not stop a wide selection of eyebrows being raised when Italy's "Iron Sergeant" showed more kindness than England deserved.

see also
Age catches up on Beckham
27 Mar 08 |  Internationals
Capello satisfied despite defeat
26 Mar 08 |  Internationals
France 1-0 England
26 Mar 08 |  Internationals
Live - International football
26 Mar 08 |  Internationals
Wednesday's football photos
26 Mar 08 |  Football
BBC pundits on England
27 Mar 08 |  Internationals
Beckham achieves century landmark
26 Mar 08 |  Internationals
England centurions
26 Mar 08 |  Internationals
Ferdinand delight at captain role
25 Mar 08 |  Internationals
Beckham's England career in photos
25 Mar 08 |  Football

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