Rooney sideshow the last thing Capello needs
Fabio Capello was at home in Italy when Uefa's decision to rule Wayne Rooney out of England's Euro 2012 group games was delivered to him by the Football Association.
At that moment Capello knew his plans for the tournament in Poland and Ukraine would have to be divided into two phases. He must devise a strategy to ensure England safely navigate their way into the knockout stage, then make sure their finest player is in the right mental and physical shape to enter Euro 2012 at the sharp end.
England coach Capello made optimistic noises about Rooney only being suspended for the opening game when he was sent off in Montenegro for needlessly kicking defender Miodrag Dzudovic during the 2-2 draw that confirmed qualification.
Rooney may have made a written submission to Uefa on his own behalf and left the pitch in Podgorica without contesting referee Wolfgang Stark's decision - but the damage, lots of it, was already done.
With Rooney out for three games, Capello must find an alternative attacking strategy for Euro 2012. Photo: Getty
The reality was that Rooney was always looking at a two-game ban and such a rash act carried the ominous threat of the maximum punishment that Uefa has meted out. Rooney will now have a large portion of Euro 2012 to reflect on his stupidity.
It has tossed Capello's preparations on to the fire and created a sideshow surrounding Rooney that was the last thing England needed as they attempt to right the wrongs of the World Cup debacle in South Africa.
Once the scale of the setback - described to me by former England captain Terry Butcher as "a hammer blow" - sank in, the questions came.
Should Capello even take Rooney to Euro 2012 when he knows he will be nothing more than a tourist for the opening games? Would the presence of this combustible, and highly frustrated, character impact on the delicate balances of team spirit?
This should be one of Capello's easier decisions. Rooney's talent and importance makes him a special case, the one player England would take to a tournament in this situation. The temptation of having him ready for action in the expectation of qualifying from the group games will be impossible to resist.
England have attacking options but none of them provides what Rooney does. The price for his genius is that occasionally he can be a liability, as he was in Montenegro, and the cost to England of his misdemeanour is huge.
Rooney is also central to Capello's team shape and methods. After finally tearing himself away from his beloved 4-4-2, Capello has used the Manchester United striker to great effect linking midfield and attack.
He was flanked outstandingly by Ashley Young and Theo Walcott in the win in Bulgaria, while he was pivotal working with the same pair in Podgorica, with Darren Bent providing the attacking spearhead.
Rooney gives Capello tactical flexibility, creativity and a threat that is feared by the best defences - even if it is accompanied by a temperament that causes him to live on the edge of indiscipline.
So Capello will not leave Rooney behind. The possible rewards of keeping him with England at their Polish base outweigh the risks of dismissing him from his plans altogether.
Rooney's fiery temperament means he treads a fine line between combative and petulant on the pitch. Photo: Getty
If Capello found one positive as he scoured the damage done by Rooney's red card, it is that he can create a real atmosphere of opportunity for England strikers who want the vacancy his absence has opened up.
Capello can now conduct an eight-month fashion parade of attackers who have a chance to make a mark and take a place that was not open to them until Thursday evening.
Aston Villa's Bent might be in pole position after another goal in Montenegro, but Manchester United's Danny Welbeck has a confirmed admirer in Capello. He is growing in stature and the Italian made a point of praising his brief contribution as a substitute in Friday's final qualifier.
Capello will also give Fulham's Bobby Zamora his opportunity and he has noted Jermain Defoe's improved form at Tottenham, while Gabriel Agbonlahor at Aston Villa will have his advocates too.
It appears he has finally - and perhaps harshly - given up on Peter Crouch, so what greater incentive for Liverpool's Andy Carroll to demonstrate why Kenny Dalglish thought he was worth £35m and, at the same time, aim for the considerable goal of a starting place at Euro 2012?
Chelsea's Daniel Sturridge is another outsider for a place but looks more impressive with every outing. There is every chance Capello will start to monitor his developments more closely as he explores all alternatives to Rooney.
And here is a name that never fails to divide opinion when mentioned in connection with England - Michael Owen.
Capello has never shown any real enthusiasm for Owen since his appointment as England coach but the Manchester United striker has always harboured ambitions of returning to the international side. If - and it is a big if - he can get regular football and scores goals this season, then Capello would surely have to examine his form?
There are plenty who would have a fit Owen in the squad - not as a starter but as a wild card substitute - and even the player himself might just sense a very small window of opportunity opening.
It would all have been so much more straightforward had Rooney decided against indiscriminately kicking Dzudovic but at least Capello has plenty of notice of the gaping hole left in his line-up for next summer.