Talking Sport with Neil Trainis
PUBLISHED: 14:22 20 March 2008 | UPDATED: 12:44 11 August 2010
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A TRIP to Paris invariably appeals to the romantics among us but when Fabio Capello takes England there for a friendly next week, the setting will provide the Italian with the chance to capture the imagination of the English public. More often than not, a
A TRIP to Paris invariably appeals to the romantics among us but when Fabio Capello takes England there for a friendly next week, the setting will provide the Italian with the chance to capture the imagination of the English public.
More often than not, a fixture with France is a stern examination of any national side's discipline and ability to sustain concentration right up to the final whistle and such challenges are too much for the majority of footballing nations.
Yet for one with the strength in depth England boast, the game represents more than the opportunity to test resilience and determination. Invention and flair should be honed and those on the periphery should be given their chance to impress.
The narrow victory over Switzerland at Wembley, Capello's first outing as coach since succeeding Steve McClaren, was about a five out of 10 on a scale of match difficulty and Raymond Domenech's side are sure to crank that number up.
Nonetheless, throwing in the inexperienced as the Three Lions face up to Les Bleus is a tantalising prospect not a demoralising one since, friendly or no friendly, playing France is always likely to boost the education of players with great potential.
Arsenal fans may criticise David Bentley for swapping north London with Lancashire but the 23-year-old has found rejuvenation at Blackburn Rovers and flourished since finding consistent football.
He was arguably the best player on the pitch during the Switzerland game and along with Shaun-Wright Phillips, Theo Walcott, Joe Cole and Aaron Lennon, forms the future battle to represent England on the right-hand side of midfield. Cole could even be used as a third attacker.
The recall of David Beckham to the squad marked a backward step in the reshaping of the national team and talk of his appearing for England again has not extended further than the romantic notion of a 100th cap.
Capello is the archetypal pragmatist, from his designer eyewear right down to his shiny black shoes, and it seems absurd that a man who demands the respect of those who play under and work alongside him would buckle amid the furore surrounding the realisation of a personal landmark. Clearly, Capello believes Beckham has something to offer.
The younger alternatives to Beckham may not yet be shrewd enough to consistently tackle the rigors of international football but they are the future and can only gain wisdom through playing games at that level.
Some turn their noses up at friendlies but while they might not always be barnstorming occasions, they are vital in furthering the experiences of budding international footballers.
It must have crossed Capello's mind that Beckham's inclusion in his final 23-man squad to play France, to be named on Saturday night, will deny someone who is sure to be about long after the 32-year-old has stopped playing the chance to confront world class footballers.
There is also the chance to innovate in other areas. Ben Foster, regarded by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson as "England's goalkeeper for the next 10 years", was omitted from the provisional squad, perhaps, because of a lack of match sharpness, but Scott Carson, still harangued by fans for the error that gifted Niko Kranjcar Croatia's opening goal in their dismissal of England, can banish the memory of that night by repelling strikers of the calibre of Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Karim Benzema and Franck Ribéry.
Glen Johnson, finally fulfilling his potential at Fratton Park, should be picked at right-back and may encounter, subject to Domenech's final squad selection, the trickery of Lyon's Hatem Ben Arfa or even Jérôme Rothen.
The game is an occasion to give youngsters the platform to showcase their ability and further Capello's understanding of their potential to perform in high-pressure fixtures and in that regard, David Wheater, the young centre back making the breakthrough at Middlesbrough, should be preferred to Rio Ferdinand.
John Terry survives because he should be given the captain's armband and prove to Capello that his recent injury problems are behind him.
On the left, Ashley Young's pace and directness can be sharpened while his reading of the game can only be improved against stylishly composed but resolute campaigners like Philippe Mexes and Lilian Thuram.
As much as unproven players should be placed under the microscope though, so too should the tried and trusted and scrutiny once again will be firmly on the Frank Lampard-Steven Gerrard midfield axis. Owen Hargreaves can provide their attacking thrusts with energetic protection.
Lampard missed the Switzerland match and Capello may wish to take a first look at the potency of that pairing for himself, yet time is ticking down on their partnership.
There are good reasons to dust away the cobwebs in attack too and Gabriel Agbonlahor, all pace and power, must be allowed to test how far he is from the seasoned international striker he aspires to be ahead of a struggling Michael Owen.
The prospect of Jermain Defoe, another who has been revitalised under the tutorship of Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth, partnering the Aston Villa forward is an intriguing one.
The chance to set in motion an exciting revolution, however, requires bravery on the part of Capello, one of football's stoutest realists.
Neil Trainis' England line-up v France (4-3-1-2): Carson, A Cole, Terry (captain), Wheater, Johnson; Gerrard, Lampard, Hargreaves; J Coe; Agbonlahor, Defoe.