ABU DHABI // Fabio Capello, the England coach, could never have expected last week's 3-1 friendly win over the African champions Eygpt to provide so many diplomatic incidents. It started before the match at Wembley when Wayne Bridge and John Terry had such a public falling out over Terry's extra-marital affair with his former teammate's former girlfriend.
The scandals continued after the match, when it transpired team meetings had been bugged prior to the match - in an apparent attempt to find the views of senior players and staff. The recordings were offered for sale to British media, who so far have not been tempted to buy them. "No questions about this. I am here and you have to ask but no," said Capello last night. Capello's objective, understandably, was to turn the focus back to football. The latest episode which is said to have hampered England's World Cup preparations, according to the man who will steer the side's challenge, was a "private problem".
The former AC Milan and Real Madrid coach did, however, offer a more telling admission when prompted about the changing nature of the England manager's job. "Usually my job is about deciding things on the pitch, not off the pitch," he said. "It's a challenge always to be England manager, but the challenge for me is always important because, at my age, without a challenge I stay home and can go on holiday.
"I like the challenge and this will be the most important challenge of my life. To be England manager was one of my dreams and I am really happy to be England manager." Handling on-the-field matters, however, such as the mounting defensive injuries, come more naturally. After calling the Three Lions' summer journey to South Africa the "most important challenge of my life", Capello said the injured defensive quartet of Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Glen Johnson and Wes Brown will be fit come June.
"I'm happy because the players are injured now and will miss three months of matches before the World Cup," he said. "The players who played against Egypt played very well and we don't have a big problem about defenders." Neither does he, injuries permitting, with strikers. While the question of who of Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch, Emile Heskey, Carlton Cole and Gabby Agbonlahor will accompany Wayne Rooney - the Premier League's in-form hit-man - to England's World Cup base in Rustenburg remains unanswered, Capello's rating of the Manchester United player is not.
"Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Rooney are the three players at the moment," he said. "Their styles are completely different, but Rooney is the strongest. I hope he will be in the same form at the World Cup and that he is fit and not injured. He is very important for England." Capello, asked how he would feel if England faced his home nation Italy in the final, insisted: "My shirt is the England shirt. I would not swap my position with [Italy coach] Marcello Lippi, I prefer to be England manager."
As England prepare to enter the World Cup, the assured, focused example set by the England coach is the loudest example for his players. @Email:email@example.com