Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Upson Gets The Nod

Matthew Upson is heavily tipped to start for England against Switzerland tonight according to the morning papers. Several of today's tabloids are claiming that new England boss Fabio Capello has opted to start with the Hammers centre-half, who is set to win his eighth cap alongside Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand. The pair went through an extensive work out as a partnership in training yesterday and will likely be flanked by Wes Brown and Ashley Cole in a new look back four. Capello is thought to have opted for Upson ahead of Tottenham's newest recruit Jonathon Woodgate and fellow central defenders Curtis Davies and Ledley King.

The 28 year old defender last played for England in a 1-0 defeat to Spain in 2004, and is now setting his sights on the World Cup after his recall. "I’ve never been to a major championship," he said. "I’ve got a huge hunger to do that. If I perform at the level which I know I can, then I want to start putting myself in a position where, hopefully, the England coach will be thinking about picking me. Playing for England is a massive target and is the one personal achievement I would love to achieve again. I am pleased with my form and how things are going. I am working hard and being as consistent as I can be. I am getting better and working on things I must improve. I have some targets that I want to meet and I am working hard to achieve those."

One man who has been impressed with Capello in his short time in the job is Sir Trevor Brooking. He has spent the last few weeks working alongside the Italian and has been fascinated by the Italian's methods. "I've enjoyed what I've seen and heard from Fabio so far," said the FA's director of technical development. "I really believe every England player who is part of his squad now and in the future will benefit hugely from the experience of working with him." Brooking was an enthralled observer a couple of days ago, as the former Roma, Juventus, AC Milan and Real Madrid coach left his squad in no doubt about how hard they will work under his tutelage. "They had two really intense sessions on the first day," he said. "During that time, Fabio put a great deal of emphasis on the defensive shape of the team - in being compact, balanced, not ball-watching."

Like all good Italian football coaches, Capello likes to build from the back but there was also a clear message to his players about switching to the offensive. The 61-year-old made the point in his press conference yesterday when he said he wanted his England teams to "be brave" especially away from home. "What Fabio means by that is he wants the team to press the opposition higher up the pitch, to put them under pressure rather than dropping back," said Brooking. Another lesson according to the gospel of Capello is to keep the ball much better. "Fabio is a very hands-on coach," said Brooking. "He put on some keep-ball sessions in tight areas, working the players on retaining the ball. The more you practise something like that the better you become at it and I know he feels we could keep possession better rather than knocking the ball forward in a hopeful way."

It all adds up to a clear message from Capello to his new charges, with nothing lost in the translation. Brooking added: "Fabio has made it very clear to the players what he expects of them and he has done it very quickly with no room for misunderstanding." Obey the rules, be prompt, learn your lessons - otherwise you could be in trouble. "There are going to be golden opportunities over the next few months for a lot of players to try and force their way into Fabio's plans," said Brooking. "This is a new era, and new and established players will be treated the same - they will have their chance. It's an exciting time for all the players especially for the less experienced ones. They can learn so much from Fabio and his staff. He is very meticulous in what he does, very organised and he wants his teams to be the same."

Above all reputations will count for nothing. David Beckham has already been left out of the squad and it is believed Michael Owen will be named only as a substitute for tonight's friendly. "If you look through the side there are going to be very few automatic choices," observed Brooking. "That means everyone thinks it's up for grabs. If you play well then you could force your way into the Capello starting eleven, and that's great, that's what everyone wants. There are going to be very few who can automatically turn up and think 'I'm playing' because he is going to select formations and teams on merit."

The Italian has introduced a raft of new rules and regulations, governing everything from what the players wear to when they can leave the dinner table, something Brooking applauds. "He's trying to plant the seed that this is how we operate, we are in this together and it is not just a case of coming in and out with your iPods on and having a chat amongst yourselves," he said. "You can see it even in the coaching. He keeps everyone on their toes, they've been very competitive trying to impress, and it's something that you can sense is different and new."

Elsewhere, Mark Noble gave an assured performance as England's under 21s breezed past the Republic of Ireland at St. Mary's last night. The 20-year-old midfielder played 86 minutes and helped the young Lions to a 3-0 win over the Irish, with all goals coming in the second half. James Tomkins and Freddie Sears helped the England under 19s to a 2-0 win over Croatia at Swindon's County Ground earlier the same evening. Tomkins played a full 90 minutes whilst Sears came on as a 74th minute substitute for Manchester United's Febian Brandy. A third Hammer, Junior Stanislas, was an unused substitute. Finally Jack Collison was part of the Wales under 21 side that enjoyed an emphatic 4-0 win in Malta. Bryan Flynn's young charges scores all four goals in the second half; the win lifts the Welsh to the top of European Championship qualifying Group 10 with just three games left to play.

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