Questions for Capello: Is Walcott the new Beckham and can Wayne Rooney rediscover how to score goals?

Comment & analysis round-up:

Quote of the day: “It’s typical of the sleaze in English football. For the story about West Ham wanting Bilic to come out now is very poor. We are very suspicious and unhappy as it is not the first time something like this has happened with England. There is no chance events at West Ham will damage us.” Vlatko Markovic, the president of the Croatia FA.

Runner-up: “To leave Madrid to go to Chelsea is OK, but I have my doubts with respect to City. I don’t know – we will have to ask Robinho what happened. It’s not normal to change Real for City. Only for the money. Robinho has the standing to play in a team who aspire to challenge for titles.” – Deco.

Today’s overview: The start of the new working week sees the papers hanging in limbo, on the one hand still looking back at England’s troubled win over Andorra, while also preparing themselves for the showdown in Zagreb.

Henry Winter lists a host of questions open for Capello before the Croatia game including Beckham v Walcott and Heskey v Defoe. Steven Howard thinks Beckham will return against Croatia because “we have to presume [Capello] will click into safety-first mode and play old Golden Knackers from the start.”

David Pleat believes England must attack Croatia down the wings if they are to have joy on the night, while Richard Williams takes a look backwards to analyse the performances of wingers Walcott and Downing against Andorra, saying “The sense of adventure [Walcott] brought to the team was in marked contrast to the general stodginess and in particular to the display on the other wing of Stewart Downing.”

Kevin McCarra also picks up on Stuart Downing’s poor performance in the Guardian, giving him a 3/10, with Walcott reminded us that raw speed rather than trickery remains his trump card over defenders.”

For Martin Samuel, Andorra’s negative tactics leaves him wondering “What is the worth of a team who have no ambition to engage with the point of the sport and do not even play their home games within their borders?” In a second article, Wayne Rooney’s goal drought for England, and his transformation from an out-and-out striker, is featured by Martin Samuel, who is joined by Sam Wallace in trying to tackle the Rooney conundrum.

From a media perspective, Martin Kelner reviews Setanta’s coverage of the England game, leaving Henry Winter to report on how England fans taunted the company during the Andorra match, for the game not being free to view on UK terrestrial TV.

Away from England, Susy Campanale is critical of the Azzurri, who she claims have not improved since Marcello Lippi took over from Roberto Donadoni.

West Ham and Newcastle seem to be locking horns over their candidates for their respective vacant managers jobs. Gianfranco Zola has emerged as the leading candidate for the vacant Newcastle job, as reported by the Louise Taylor. Yet, as Dominic Fifield investigates, the Toon may have to move fast on Zola, as the Italian has also impressed West Ham in their search for a manager. Muddying the picture even further are Sam Wallace and Michael Walker, who claim that Newcastle have earmarked Slaven Bilic as their number one choice.

Finally, tells the story of Romania’s Poli Timisoara, who now have two different clubs playing under the same name and Moritz Volz talks about his transfer window move from Fulham to Ipswich.

Henry Winter (Telegraph) runs down the list of issues open for Fabio Capello before the meeting with Croatia. “Capello must decide whether David Beckham should replace the lively Theo Walcott (probably), whether Emile Heskey would bring more out of Wayne Rooney than Jermain Defoe (yes), whether Wes Brown should come back for Glen Johnson (yes) and whether Joe Cole should start ahead of Stewart Downing (yes). Rio Ferdinand’s back remains stiff and he is considered unlikely to feature.”

The Sun’s Steven Howard talks tactics ahead of Croatia. “Capello is likely to make four changes to the team that started on Saturday night, with two-goal Cole replacing the hopelessly inadequate Stewart Downing on the left. Another change will probably be Wes Brown for Glen Johnson. This says all you need to know about the current England set-up — the return of a player with a few too many holes in his game actually to stiffen the defence. With Heskey rightly starting ahead of Jermain Defoe, we then come to the eternal Beckham conundrum. Seeing Capello is a man with an in-built default mechanism when it comes to taking even the slightest gamble, we have to presume he will click into safety-first mode and play old Golden Knackers from the start.”

David Pleat (Guardian) believes England must attack Croatia down the wings if they are to have joy in Zagreb. “The game will be more open as a result and might help Theo Walcott whose initial effort was enterprising. Here is a wide man who understands when to race forward, when to check and when to stand still to receive passes… Joe Cole is certain to start but it is vital the space he vacates when he comes inside is taken quickly by Ashley Cole to use his left foot to good advantage. Against Andorra England were well-balanced with three left-footers – Ashley Cole, Barry and Downing – in the starting XI but with Andorra ‘parking the bus’ so deep this positivity was nullified. Movement and imagination is the key for Wednesday. With Joe Cole on the left coming in, Ashley Cole will be important but Srna, the right-sided midfielder, will be tuned in and aware of this ploy.”

Keeping focus on England’s flanks, Richard Williams (Guardian) analyses the performances of Walcott and Downing against Andorra. “The sense of adventure [Walcott] brought to the team was in marked contrast to the general stodginess and in particular to the display on the other wing of Stewart Downing, whose attempts to combine with an overlapping Ashley Cole were defeated by his own fumbling inaccuracy. Capello withdrew the Middlesbrough man at half-time in favour of Joe Cole, who promptly scored two goals and reaffirmed the technical quality he tends to bring to the side, even in the darkest of hours. The Chelsea player has endured a difficult time since being introduced to the squad as a 16-year-old prodigy during training sessions, and it would be sad to see Walcott’s progress hindered by a similar degree of managerial equivocation. Cole is still not an automatic choice yet he, Walcott and Rooney are England’s only players with the wit and skill to dismantle the sort of defence that Andorra erected on Saturday. The sooner Capello demonstrates his recognition of that reality, the sooner England will consign to history the sort of reception that greeted them at half-time.”

Kevin McCarra (Guardian) also picks up on Stuart Downing’s poor performance in the Guardian, giving him a 3/10. “Middlesbrough rightly prize Stewart Downing, but if the winger performed at the Riverside as he did here they would be hawking him in the marketplace. Unable to break open Andorra, he breached the tolerance of the visiting fans instead… Stewart Downing Sank without trace and was withdrawn at the interval. His crossing was depressingly woeful and this was a dismal step backwards 3.”

On Saturday, a couple of heavy touches from Walcott reminded us that raw speed rather than trickery remains his trump card over defenders. He is an exciting talent but he is not, and never will be, Lionel Messi… Of recent contenders, Aaron Lennon has slipped off the radar and David Bentley has done nothing to warrant promotion. Now that Walcott is establishing himself as an Arsenal regular, opportunity appears to be knocking for him.”

The Times’ Martin Samuel doffs his cap at Andorra’s horribly negative tactics. “Their triumph remains the degree of humiliation that they can inflict before surrender and the last time England visited, that was quite a lot. It almost cost the head coach, Steve McClaren, his job. Even Fabio Capello, impervious to criticism right now, appeared uncomfortable as Andorra’s depressing negativity ate up precious scoring time. They played throughout like a team who had had three men sent off, clustered on the edge of their penalty area, clearing the ball long and reassembling for the next wave of attacks, the sole difference being that there were 11 blue shirts on the field. This made it hard for the only team trying to play football, with simply too much traffic between England’s players and the target… What is the worth of a team who have no ambition to engage with the point of the sport and do not even play their home games within their borders?”

Wayne Rooney’s goal drought for England, and his transformation from an out-and-out striker, is featured by Martin Samuel (The Times). “The matches spent chasing the ball out wide for Manchester United, or creating the diversionary space for Ronaldo are taking a toll. Even Capello now talks of Rooney as one of a number, rather than the decisive player for England… It is as if the demands of the modern game have sucked the instinctive life out of him, making Rooney a player that chases down a defender or happily mucks in when he should be the star. It is admirable, this devotion to the team, except English football is suffering for his unselfishness. United have Ronaldo, which makes it understandable that last season Rooney was sometimes required to do a workmanlike shift on the flank, but, for England, Rooney is Ronaldo. He is the special one, the player that makes the difference. Indeed, since Ronaldo has been absent for Manchester United, even Sir Alex Ferguson has grown frustrated with Rooney’s decency, and called on him to toil less and score more.”

Sam Wallace also tries to tackle the Rooney conundrum in the Independent. “When Capello starts sketching out his team for the World Cup qualifier against Croatia on Wednesday he will have many different variations to ponder. Walcott or David Beckham? 4-3-2-1, 4-4-2 or 4-5-1? Defoe or Heskey? Rooney will, as ever, be on the team sheet because, for this player at least, every England manager seems prepared to wait for ever. So how to get the best out of him? In Walcott’s favour, he complements Rooney with a speed of movement not possessed by Heskey. Walcott might not have Joe Cole’s ability to read a game but he is potentially a force on the counter-attack, which is presumably how England intend to play against a country who have not lost at home in 14 years.”

The Guardian’s media commentator, Martin Kelner, reviews Setanta’s coverage of the England game. “The irony is Setanta really does try harder. Its current coup has been to grab exclusive rights to England’s away qualifiers for the 2010 World cup. That is not exclusive like a Daily Express story about Madeleine McCann, but exclusive in the sense that Setanta has something nobody else does… commentator Jon Champion, who was a fish out of water at ITV, works hard on his research and usually brings a little something extra to a game. Where some commentators might have trotted out the cliché about the entire population of Andorra fitting into Wembley Stadium, Champion pointed out the place has the same population as Barrow-in-Furness. Good choice. Barrow lost its league team years ago, and is demonstrably not Alderley Edge or Kensington, so the contrast with the Premier League millionaires was immediately established without labouring the point.”

But not everyone is a supporter of Setanta, Henry Winter (Telegraph) reports how England fans taunted the company during the Andorra match, for the game not being free to view on UK terrestrial TV. “England supporters’ frequent chants of ‘We hate Setanta” during the game were born of anger that the satellite channel had refused BBC or ITV access to highlights and, to a lesser extent, an attack on Setanta’s Irish ownership. The anti-Irish element in England’s support, which reached its nadir when visiting fans rioted at Lansdowne Road in 1995, has ebbed in recent years but it resurfaced on Saturday. First came the chant of ‘No surrender to the IRA’ and then the disparaging of Setanta. Producers turned down their pitch-side microphones so the sound could not be heard on TV.”

Keeping on the international stage, Football Italia’s Susy Campanale is critical of the Azzurri, who she claims have not improved since Marcello Lippi took over from Roberto Donadoni. “Lippi has been too quick to scrap everything that Donadoni worked on in the intervening two years and his decision to drop Antonio Cassano like a stone seems stranger with each uninspiring game. His point-blank refusal to even consider Mario Balotelli for a step up to the senior squad also worries me, as if the 18-year-old talent is good enough to push his way into the Inter line-up, then he can certainly be given a chance to shake up Gilardino and Toni. What’s the worst that could happen by flinging him on as a substitute when opponents are tired?”

Gianfranco Zola has emerged as the leading candidate for the vacant Newcastle job, as reported by the Guardian’s Louise Taylor. “The former Chelsea player who is regarded as the candidate most likely to appease the Geordie fans remains close friends with Dennis Wise, Newcastle’s director of football and a former Stamford Bridge team-mate. Although the 42-year-old Sardinian turned down a coaching job alongside Keegan last season he is keen to become a Premier League manager. Gus Poyet had appeared to be Newcastle’s first choice but, despite having strong ties with both Wise and Tony Jimenez, another influential boardroom figure at St James’, the Uruguayan is believed to have indicated a certain reluctance to succeed Keegan.”

Yet, as Dominic Fifield (Guardian) reports, the Toon may have to move fast on Zola, as the Italian has also impressed West Ham in their search for a manager. “If Bilic remains the favourite to secure the position vacated by Alan Curbishley last week, then Zola has emerged as an impressive alternative in his own right. The Italian travels to Zagreb himself today in his role as coach of the Italian under-21s, alongside Pierluigi Casiraghi, for tomorrow’s match against Croatia. The former Chelsea playmaker met Nani on Saturday and Duxbury yesterday, with each impressed with Zola’s desire to implement an attacking brand of football at Upton Park in keeping with the traditions demanded by the club.”

The apple cart is turned on its head by the Independent’s Sam Wallace and Michael Walker, who claim that Newcastle have earmarked Slaven Bilic as their number one choice. “With Bilic incommunicado as he trains with his team in Slovenia there have been difficulties in establishing exactly what he thinks about the potential merits of the two clubs. The Newcastle vice-president Tony Jimenez will play a key role in the recruitment of the new manager although it will require the approval of owner Mike Ashley. Needless to say the club’s hierarchy would regard Bilic’s straight-talking and his popularity as one way of easing their fraught relationship with the club’s supporters. Unlike West Ham, Newcastle have not placed themselves under any deadlines to appoint a successor to Keegan although the rebellious sentiment among the support means that they need an alternative sooner rather than later. That more relaxed approach to recruiting a new manager would suit Bilic who has refused to give any definitive answers on either club as to his future until after the match against England.”

In an offbeat article, (The Times) tells the story of Romania’s Poli Timisoara, who now have two different clubs playing under the same name. “What constitutes a football club? Is it the crest? The squad? The colours? The directors? The fans? Those questions appear relevant when trying to sort out the case of ‘Poli Timisoara’, a situation that epitomises the potential excesses when free markets and football collide. You may think it is just a dull case of semantics and intellectual property, but to fans of a club it is of paramount importance. Especially now that one of the clubs involved has been docked six points, which led to thousands of supporters taking to the streets and fighting police… Now there were two Poli Timisoaras: the ‘real’ one, based hundreds of miles away in Bucharest and languishing in the lower divisions, and a clone, which at least could count on local support and a place in the top flight.”

Regular columnist for The Times, Moritz Volz talks about his transfer window move from Fulham to Ipswich. “I still have not said goodbye to anyone at Fulham since moving to Ipswich Town on a season-long loan, even though I spent five years there and built many friendships. I have not even collected my stuff from the training ground. So, if you are reading this, Brede Hangeland, that tin of bratwurst is all yours – and tell Jimmy Bullard he can have my Europop CDs.”

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