Shoals of fans want Sc­holes back but Capello must re­sist

The Scotsman - - Sfl In Focus -

WHEn it con­cerns the Eng­land team, there has al­ways been a predilec­tion to lurch be­tween ex­tremes. The two lat­est can­di­dates to re­store the roar to at least a cou­ple of the three lions have the amus­ing smack of des­per­a­tion to them.

There’s a school of ex­treme re­vi­sion­ism al­ready float­ing the the­ory that Eng­land would have en­joyed a bet­ter World Cup with Paul Sc­holes in the side. Ad­mit­tedly the root source of this the­ory seems to be Sc­holes him­self, but there is ev­i­dence that Fabio Capello is a be­liever, and still holds out hope that Sc­holes could have a role to play in the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship qual­i­fiers.

The 35 year-old sup­pos­edly re­tired from in­ter­na­tional foot­ball when he was still in his 20s but, in re­cent in­ter­views, Sc­holes has been of­fer­ing co­quet­tish glances and ges­tures from be­hind his fan, like a gin­ger-haired Vene­tian cour­te­san. It seems he might have con­de­scended to go to the World Cup if Fabio Capello had wooed him in per­son in­stead of em­ploy­ing Cyrano de Bal­dini to whis­per im­pre­ca­tions into Sc­holes’ mo­bile. This use of an in­ter­me­di­ary showed in­suf­fi­cient re­spect, ap­par­ently, al­though a more likely ex­pla­na­tion is that, back then, if the Eng­land coach had made the call him­self, Capello’s rudi­men­tary English would have meant a mes­sage along the lines of “Hey Paolo bam­bino, me wanna you play in World Cup, say si and make Pappa Fabio very happy.”

For most of his ca­reer Sc­holes has seemed a ret­i­cent and mod­est fig­ure. He fooled us all Sc­holes’ at­ti­tude to an Eng­land re­call shows he is ca­pa­ble of ex­actly the same preen­ing and un­war­ranted self-re­gard that typ­i­fies most Premier League pro­fes­sion­als.

It is un­war­ranted be­cause his con­tri­bu­tion to Eng­land’s cause in the past has been mostly lack­lus­tre, and oc­ca­sion­ally counter-pro­duc­tive. Ad­mit­tedly his ef­fec­tive­ness has been ham­pered by ec­cen­tric tac­ti­cal in­struc­tions, like telling him to play on the left-wing (Svengo­ran Eriks­son) or “go out and drop a few bombs” (Kevin Kee­gan). All the same, there is more than enough ev­i­dence to sug­gest that Sc­holes lacks the force of char­ac­ter and im­pos­ing will to make the same im­pact on in­ter­na­tional foot­ball as he man­ages at Manch­ester United.

Sc­holes had an en­joy­able sea­son with United last sea­son, freed from ex­pec­ta­tion, al­lowed to wan­der around the mid­field siz­ing up glo­ri­ous passes for his team-mates to squan­der. He looks a classier player with­out the frenzy of his youth. There is an un­der­stand­able yearn­ing for Eng­land to en­joy a lit­tle of that time and space, but it’s un­re­al­is­tic.

Sc­holes thrives in a good team, he can’t rev­o­lu­tionise a poor one. West Ham United might strug­gle to sub­due him this af­ter­noon, but any halfde­cent na­tional side could neu­tralise Sc­holes in an in­stant.

One part of his game that is di­min­ished in an Eng­land shirt is his com­bat­ive­ness. The sort of out­ra­geous tack­les that Sc­holes has com­mit­ted in red tend to get pun­ished more con­sis­tently when dished out in white. It is one of the un­sung achieve­ments of Sc­holes’ lengthy ca­reer that he has never picked up a rep­u­ta­tion as a dirty player, de­spite be­ing re­spon­si­ble for a show-reel’s worth of hor­rific chal­lenges. In that sense he is rem­i­nis­cent of Johnny giles, now re­called as the brains of the dirty Leeds side of the 60s and 70s, but ac­tu­ally one of its prime en­forcers.

de­spite ef­forts to ca­jole him back into white, Sc­holes’ Eng­land story is one of what might have been, rather than what might still be. Equally des­per­ate, but at the other end of the age spec­trum are the ridicu­lously-pre­ma­ture at­tempts to cast Andy Car­roll as the new Alan Shearer.

ge­ordies have al­ways craved an iconic no 9, ever since the foe­tus of Tony Blair al­legedly cheered for Jackie Mil­burn. Car­roll’s style is some­thing of a throw­back to the 50s as well. Ba­si­cally he gets his head on the end of crosses (helped by his six foot four stature) or wellies the ball goal­wards (three left foot strikes against As­ton Villa last week­end). If he was late for train­ing be­cause of a shift down the pit, he would be the com­plete retro cen­tre-for­ward.

Car­roll has a rather more “in­ter­est­ing” char­ac­ter than his pre­de­ces­sor at St James’ Park. Whereas Shearer was fa­mously never hap­pier than when faced by a bare fence and a full tin of cre­osote, Car­roll isn’t a stranger to a night­club af­fray (the case comes up in the crown court in Oc­to­ber).

It’s hardly his fault that he has be­come the lat­est symp­tom of the soul-search­ing go­ing on in English foot­ball af­ter the ab­ject World Cup.

The purists who want a lit­tle pa­tient pre­ci­sion in mid­field have fix­ated on the el­derly Sc­holes as the so­lu­tion. The ever-present nos­tal­gists who yearn for a big lad with a broad fore­head up front have alighted on Car­roll. nei­ther is likely to make much dif­fer­ence. The ques­tion is whether Fabio Capello is des­per­ate enough to start be­liev­ing in them too.

Paul Sc­holes re­mains a stand­out for Manch­ester united but has been less ef­fec­tive for eng­land

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