Fabio Capello has rarely, if ever, appeared a soft touch, but yesterday provided irrefutable proof of his ruthlessness. In confirming his squad for the World Cup, the England manager trimmed seven men - Darren Bent, Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott, Scott Parker, Tom Huddlestone, Michael Dawson and Leighton Baines - in a display of brutality. This was a bloody cull.
The Italian said he knew his 23 after Sunday's win over Japan in Graz. Often inscrutable, Capello's thoughts remained shielded to mean his final party proved a surprise. In disposing of the architect of England's finest result in his reign, he provided a seismic shock. Walcott's hat-trick in the 4-1 win over Croatia in September 2008 was an endorsement of Capello's judgment and management. This was the reward from a demanding taskmaster, a consequence of mixed form for club and country this season. However, having started both friendlies against Mexico and Japan, Walcott was granted more of an opportunity than the other discarded players. Capello's verdict suggests, despite his blistering acceleration, Walcott has gone backwards in 21 months.
His career has come full circle. An astonishing choice for the World Cup by Sven-Goran Eriksson four years ago, he is the unexpected exclusion now. Johnson was the other unfortunate winger, demoted in part for a man he has kept out of the Manchester City team. Yet it was confirmation that the second half against Japan had a decisive influence in Capello's thinking. On his first international appearance for 20 months, Joe Cole was the catalyst for the turnaround. Shaun-Wright-Phillips also played his way on to the plane.
Both illustrated versatility while it is suggested Walcott failed to impress during crossing practice with the sidelined David Beckham last week. The most significant inclusion, of those whose place was in doubt, is Gareth Barry, who passed a fitness test on his ankle. Two alternatives as anchor midfielders, Parker and Huddlestone, were deemed surplus to requirements. Ledley King, the centre-back was ruled able to travel, at the expense of Dawson.
Capello is a long-term admirer, but there was evidence of a late change of thought in defence. Stephen Warnock only has six minutes of international football to his name but he was preferred to Baines as the back-up left-back. He is the most untried choice, but he is also 28. This is a seasoned squad; each of the omitted players can see an older or more experienced footballer blocking his path. Bent's rejection is an action replay: the Sunderland striker, the Premier League's third-highest scorer this season, was cast aside at the same stage four years ago. firstname.lastname@example.org
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City) David James (Portsmouth) Robert Green (West Ham) Defenders: Jamie Carragher (Liverpool) Ashley Cole (Chelsea) Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United) Glen Johnson (Liverpool) Ledley King (Tottenham) John Terry (Chelsea) Matthew Upson (West Ham) Stephen Warnock (Aston Villa) Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Manchester City) Michael Carrick (Manchester United) Joe Cole (Chelsea) Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) Frank Lampard (Chelsea) Aaron Lennon (Tottenham) James Milner (Aston Villa) Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City) Forwards: Peter Crouch (Tottenham) Jermain Defoe (Tottenham) Emile Heskey (Aston Villa) Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)