The Italian Job: England and Ireland on course

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles

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The Italian revolution is firmly under away in the British Isles. Since the arrival of two of the greatest products to emerge from Italian football, the fortunes of English and Irish football have flourished.

Indeed Fabio Capello and Giovanni Trapattoni have proved to be major coups for the respective football associations of both countries.

Capello, 62, has a staggering record in club management: 10 Serie A titles, 2 Coppa Italia’s, 2 La Liga titles, and 1 Champions League title. It’s an impressive CV and he has brought a wealth of experience to the England team.

So far he has hardly put a foot wrong. Unafraid to make controversial decisions, he is single-minded in his vision for England’s future. He seems to have solved the issue of balance within the England side, with an almost offensive formation.

Under Capello, England are sitting top of group six, with a 100% record after six games. Any pessimists who thought the Italian would encourage cautious defensive football have been reassured that this simply won’t be the case with Capello’s England.

Leading the scoring charts of the European Qualifying stages, putting 20 goals past their opposition while conceding a mere four, the English FA would be forgiven for taking a reconnaissance mission to South Africa for an eagerly anticipated World Cup in 2010.

It seems even more certain after a dominant performance against Kazakhstan on Saturday. Goals from Gareth Barry, Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard firmly cemented England’s position at the top of the group.

Such is the tactical prowess of the Italian, that he has managed to keep both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in midfield and playing well together. They are helped by the defensive cover of Barry.

His preferred formation seems to be the 4-2-3-1. There is the physical presence of Heskey upfront, playing as a lone striker. He enjoys support from Rooney, Gerrard and Walcott. In midfield Lampard and Barry are deployed, with a solid back four of captain John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ashely Cole and Glen Johnson.

The spine of the team is up there with the best in the world and is arguably capable of winning the World Cup in 2010. It remains to be seen if the England squad can, under the experienced Italian, cope with the hopes of a football-mad nation, craving glory. Undoubtedly South Africa is what Capello will be judged on.

It’s all very well progressing from a relatively straight forward qualifying group, but South Africa will be the ultimate determinate of whether the Italian’s reign has been a success or failure.

Across the water, Ireland have also managed to attract one of Italy’s most decorated managers. Trapattoni has won 10 domestic league titles in four different countries, countless domestic cups and a European Cup.

Inheriting an Ireland squad which is mostly youthful and inexperienced, he has moulded them into a difficult team to break down. However, the squad isn’t without some stars: captain Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff, Kevin Kilbane, and Shay Given make up the experienced sector of the squad.

The style football Ireland have been playing under Trapattoni has come under criticism from certain sectors of the Irish media. Outspoken journalist, Eamon Dunphy described the Italian as a sufferer of ‘negative football syndrome’.

But this so called ‘negative football’ has proved largely effective, highlighted by a valiant draw in Bari against World Cup holders Italy. Ireland’s style maybe be far from pleasing to the eye, but it is effective. They are now an incredibly hard team to beat.

Having played six games, Ireland find themselves in second place with 13 points, managing three wins and four draws. Whatever the critics might say, normally after seven games Ireland would be struggling to qualify, yet the Italian has worked with the players he has at his disposal and has transformed them into an efficient unit.

Sadly it speaks volumes for the lack of faith both football associations have in their own domestic managers. Yet their decision to look to Italy will be vindicated should England and Ireland enjoy successful World Cup campaigns. For now, ‘The Italian Job’ is half completed, come October, we will see whether it has been a success.

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