IF Fabio Capello needs a clue as to how to get his lacklustre team firing on all cylinders again he need look no further than the recipient of last night’s man of the match award.
Aaron Ramsey, the 20-year-old captain of Wales, took that honour and at once symbolised everything that was in such short supply in the England side: youth, energy, vigour and fearlessness.
Just a few days ago Capello took his squad to Bulgaria and picked an adventurous, young line-up featuring two defensive midfielders and four interchanging forwards – and deservedly ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
Here last night, however, he sent out a disappointingly conservative side featuring three central midfielders who are all too similar. England ended up with a decent result – but were static and largely nullified by Wales and got away with it.
James Milner did well enough and worked hard but is just not offensive enough as a replacement for Theo Walcott. It meant there was little interaction between the forwards and Wayne Rooney was left an isolated figure for much of the game.
Frank Lampard seems to have lost the bursts of energy so crucial to his game and is now one-paced, with too many sideways passes, and does not affect games terribly much.
Lampard has been a great servant to his country and certainly still has a role to play as a squad player but the sad fact is that the years catch up with us all eventually and England need to face the issue of their ageing stars head-on.
Capello doesn’t have many games left before Euro 2012 and must use them to bring through youngsters. Chris Smalling has been a success; now let’s see the likes of Tom Cleverley get their chance.
No longer can we use the excuse that youngsters cannot handle the pressure of international football. They are all playing for top clubs, often in the Champions League. They are ready.
What we need is to give new blood their chance and stick with them – even if they have the odd bad game. The older heads can always be brought on as substitutes – but only if the youngsters don’t work out.
WHAT IT MEANS | EURO 2012
England need a point from their final group fixture next month in Montenegro to make sure of top spot and automatic qualification. Defeat would risk being knocked into second place, but only as long as Montenegro won their final game, in Switzerland, four days later. Switzerland could still pinch second place but Wales and Bulgaria are both out.