Capello’s lineup secrecy sparks World Cup debate over when starting players should know

By Rob Harris, AP
Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Secrets and lineups: When should players know?

JOHANNESBURG — Put me in coach? You never know with England.

Keeping opponents in the dark is as popular a ploy as any at a coach’s disposal. The merits of such a policy have become a major issue in England’s troubled World Cup camp because Fabio Capello has been holding back that information from his players as well.

Capello keeps lineup information to himself until two hours before kickoff. Such a strategy has been seized on as a reason for England starting the World Cup with two disappointing draws and leaving its stay in South Africa dependent on beating Slovenia on Wednesday in Group C.

Capello’s critics say that telling goalkeeper Robert Green so late he was starting against the United States left him mentally unprepared for his World Cup debut. Green may have supported that argument by fumbling Clint Dempsey’s shot into his own net just before halftime in the 1-1 draw.

Even David James, who replaced Green against Algeria, barely disguised his frustration about being told so late by Capello on Friday.

“I found out five minutes before we got on the bus (for the stadium),” the 39-year-old James said. “We train hard now for a few days and wait for the selection again five minutes before we leave again on Wednesday.”

England defender Jamie Carragher knows no different at Liverpool, and Capello’s methods weren’t questioned when the team won nine of 10 World Cup qualifying matches.

“I never heard anything or saw anything about this. They were winning and that’s results and that’s football,” South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said. “Only now, when they draw two games, do these things come out. This is football. We call it results.”

While sympathizing with Capello, Parreira — like Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa — wants his players to know a day in advance.

“The players go to sleep knowing that they are going to play,” the former Brazil coach said. “But it is according to the culture (of the country). In Brazil, this would never happen that the players get to know they are playing hours before the game.

“But being with the (Brazilian) national team for so many years I would say that most of the players, 95 percent of them, played overseas, and they told us that it was common, not only in England but also Spain and Germany, that the coaches announce the team hours before the game. Sometimes in the dressing room.”

And many share Capello’s belief that keeping the players uncertain ensures they are all in game mode.

“The coach is always looking to make sure that everyone is involved so that even if you’re not playing you don’t disconnect,” Spain defender Carles Puyol said.

It worked for Greece coach Otto Rehhagel, who masterminded the country’s first World Cup win against Nigeria.

“I like to take as much time as possible,” Rehhagel said. “I won’t tell anyone about the lineup before our final players’ meeting, which normally is three hours before the match. The main reason for that is that I don’t want to rush things.”

Italy coach Marcello Lippi is dismissive of the debate.

“I’ve never heard of any coach naming his lineup the day before the match,” Lippi said. “So why should I?”

New Zealand did before facing Italy on Sunday, and then held the world champion to a 1-1 draw that will go down in Kiwi soccer history.

In the world of Twitter, some fans may know who’s playing almost as quickly as the players.

Australia forward Harry Kewell claimed before the draw against Ghana that the players had been told the starting lineup “about two hours before the match.”

The rest of the world, though, knew earlier on Twitter thanks to a former player turned TV commentator.

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