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Capello and Barwick suffer as England struggle

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Phil McNulty | 00:42 UK time, Thursday, 21 August 2008


English football suffered an uncomfortable night as a muddled display from Fabio Capello's side was played out against the backdrop of high-level political intrigue in Soho Square.

Capello's England had barely embarked on what was a hugely worrying performance against the Czech Republic before leaks sprung around Wembley that Football Association chief executive Brian Barwick was leaving his post.

Confirmation swiftly came that Barwick was indeed on his way as part of what might be politely termed a "re-structure", this time instigated by Lord Triesman, the FA's first independent chairman.

This was a huge distraction to the action taking place on the field - but not big enough to disguise worrying evidence that the brave new era under Italian coach Capello is struggling in its infancy.

England were technically and tactically inferior to the Czechs, who were denied a deserved win by Joe Cole's injury-time equaliser.

This was meant to be the night when England delivered a statement of intent that they were fit for purpose with World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Croatia coming in September. Not so.

England had occasional spells of possession and urgency in the first half, but as Great Britain celebrates a golden Games in Beijing, there was nothing in the way of a silver lining here for Capello.

In a match that was meant to provide answers ahead of key World Cup qualifiers, we were left with only questions.

Who will form England's attack? How will the midfield line up? How worrying is it that England have no serious alternative to the erratic David James in goal?

Wayne Rooney gave another of those "all things to all men" displays where he pops up everywhere and ends up achieving nothing.

It has been forgotten that when Rooney emerged at Everton, he played as a striker who occasionally dropped deep - now he drops deep and occasional plays as a striker.

Rooney needs a big game for England. And for Capello's sake he needs it in Zagreb on 10 September.

He also needs a partner up front. For all Capello's apparent aversion to Michael Owen, the Newcastle man, when fit, still remains England's best bet for that vital goal.

Sadly, there is no guarantee Owen will be healthy, and Jermain Defoe continues to be a poor impersonation at international level, despite his potency in the Premier League.

Gerrard runs at the Czech Republic defence

The midfield was a mess, outmanoeuvred by the Czechs and showing little to suggest a cohesive, settled unit is about to form.

Capello caused general bafflement in his post-match press conference when he brushed off suggestions - allegations might be a better word - that Steven Gerrard played on the left side of midfield.

He gave an explanation smothered in tactical phrasing and gestures, but it flew over most heads.

Sorry, Fabio, he looked like he was playing on the left to me - and looked like he was enjoying it as much as he would enjoy nailing his hand to a coffee table.

Gerrard is a central midfield player. This is where he should play, and to deploy him anywhere else is a criminal waste of a world-class talent. He must be restored there for the qualifiers.

David Beckham still offers England's best set-piece threat, but it is questionable whether he provides much else. It would be a risk to play him in the heat of battle in Zagreb - but the brutal truth is that his quality delivery is one of the few straws England can currently clutch at.

Capello said the game allowed him to see faults in his side, especially a susceptibility to a counter-attack - but that is just one of many worries facing him as the real business of his reign starts.

While all this was happening, honeyed statements were being prepared behind the scenes dealing with Barwick's departure on 31 December.

Barwick, who will have been in the post almost four years, has been increasingly sidelined under Triesman's new regime and has now been pruned himself as the much-touted "root and branch" revolution continues at the FA.

The former television executive was a popular and personable figure with a wide range of contacts within the game, but once Triesman starting flexing his muscle and building his own power base, his days were quickly numbered.

It has been a tenure of highs and lows for Barwick, who has a genuine love of the game as a lifelong and fanatical Liverpool fan.

He took the brunt of the blame for the very public bungling of the approach for Luiz Felipe Scolari ahead of Sven-Goran Eriksson's departure as England manager in 2006.

When Scolari, who was Portugal coach at the time, withdrew from the running, Barwick fatally compromised by backing the choice of Eriksson's assistant Steve McClaren, drawing ridicule for passing him off as the man who was the FA's first choice for the job.

McClaren was out of his depth and his failure to take England to Euro 2008 drove at the heart of Barwick's credibility.

Barwick poses for the photographers with new England coach Capello

Barwick regained kudos when he made good on his promise to deliver a coach of world repute in Capello - although the jeers directed towards the Italian at Wembley on Wednesday suggested that particular honeymoon is now over.

He also oversaw the opening of the new Wembley and concluded lucrative sponsorship and television deals.

Barwick also helped push through the plans for the National Football Centre at Burton, a project he believes will prove crucial to the future success of the game in this country.

He may have had his failures, but he also had his successes, and it would be unfair in the extreme not to underscore them as he prepares to leave the FA.

Slowly but surely, however, Barwick has found himself sidelined as Triesman sweeps through Soho Square, and now joins Adam Crozier and Mark Palios as former FA chief executives.

It all made for little harmony on or off the pitch at Wembley - an uncomfortable night for Fabio Capello and a fateful one for the man who appointed him.

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