Capello faces moment of truth
World Cup 2010: Rustenburg
Fabio Capello has had a relatively smooth ride since taking over as England manager in early 2008. And rightly so.
He helped England regain their verve after the desperate days of Steve McClaren's reign, which ended in them failing to qualify for the 2008 European Championship, and guided the team to the World Cup in South Africa with an almost unblemished record.
But the last few days have shown that Capello, for all his pedigree as a club manager, is not perfect. Perhaps the unique pressures of managing England are a lot harder than he first realised.
The case against Capello following England's 1-1 draw against the United States in the Group C opener on Saturday reads as follows:
1. He is putting his players - and his goalkeepers in particular - under unnecessary pressure by sticking to his routine of naming his squad two hours before kick off;
2. The decision to play Ledley King was a mistake given his catalogue of injury problems;
3. James Milner should not have started as he had been suffering with a virus all week and his replacement Shaun Wright-Phillips was not as effective as Joe Cole might have been;
4. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard do not play well together in central midfield and yet, mainly through lack of any alternative, he still persisted with that line-up in Rustenburg.
Add to that the problems since the turn of the year - the John Terry affair, his brief flirtation with the Capello Index, his own contract situation and the fact Wayne Rooney has not scored for his country since last September - and it is easy to see why the gloss has come off Capello's England.
Saturday's lacklustre draw, the critics say, must be seen in that context.
In Capello's defence, the game against the US could easily have ended differently had it not been for Robert Green's goalkeeping mistake - something no manager can legislate for. England had plenty of chances and the team have certainly made worse starts to big tournaments.
And the Italian, who has won nine league titles in Italy and Spain, does not become a bad manager overnight.
What we are seeing, however, is a healthy revision of the relationship between country and coach.
Yes, he has made a massive difference. But this is still essentially the same group of players that played so poorly during the World Cup in Germany four years ago. The only big change is that most of them are four years older.
Although it was reasonable to hope Capello could get more out of England's most talented players, it was always unrealistic to expect him to make all the difference.
Unlike club management, Capello is stuck with the players he has got. The fact that Jamie Carragher is even in the squad, after retiring from international football in 2007 before Capello convinced him to reconsider, let alone the most likely starting partner for Terry on Friday in Cape Town, is revealing.
At Monday's news conference, Carragher explained why the country should keep faith in the manager.
"Because he is Fabio," he said at England's training camp in Rustenburg. "Just look at his record. It's unblemished."
It is important that Saturday's result is kept in perspective. Senior Football Association figures I spoke to on Monday say there is absolutely no doubts over the manager following this first setback.
But another disappointing performance against Algeria on Friday and the FA might come under pressure to explain why it was so hasty to remove a break clause in his £5m-a-year contract before a ball had even been kicked in this tournament.