England are falling behind as the race for Euro finals heats up
The impact of Fabio Capello's decision to walk out on England is finally starting to sink in. The Three Lions drift.
It is less than three months to the deadline when the squads for the European Championship must be submitted to UEFA, and no-one knows who is picking England's line-up.
There are reassurances from Stuart Pearce and others inside the FA that plans exist – and the memory of Denmark's triumph 20 years ago, when they were not even in the tournament at this stage – but it is far from ideal.
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Preparation is the key, as any coach will eagerly explain. There are players and opponents to be scouted, combinations within the squad to consider and dossiers to compile.
How should we set up to tame the rampant French What is the best way to shackle the might of Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic Where are the threats from Ukraine, who have won four out of their last five friendlies Who will be our captain Is Danny Welbeck the man to spearhead England's attack in Wayne Rooney's absence What happens when Rooney returns
As Laurent Blanc, Erik Hamren and Oleg Blokhin fine-tune their squads, England lurch out of first gear in the process of identifying a successor to Capello. Harry Redknapp, meanwhile, immerses himself in Tottenham's priorities – like the visit of Manchester United on Sunday and the fitness of Rafael van der Vaart.
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Next week, the 16 head coaches of the Euro 2012 teams have been invited to a workshop in Warsaw to learn the operational details of the tournament they will contest in June. Make that 15 head coaches and Sir Trevor Brooking, who is filling in for England.
If the FA are to extract a manager from a club, it will not be before the end of the season, leaving another 10 weeks of preparation to Pearce and his capable staff, followed by a month of cramming for the new man.
The FA Cup final is on May 5, with the final round of Barclays Premier League fixtures a week later on May 13. The Champions League final in Munich on May 19 is unlikely to concern any England players.
For them, there will be no competitive game for more than four weeks from the end of the Premier League until the France game. This competitive void will be even wider for Rooney, banned for the first two games of the Euro 2012 tournament and not available until the Ukraine game, more than a week later.
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Management of players during the fallow month will be vital. Players can expect more time off than they had before the 2010 World Cup as Capello accepts his alpine boot camp in Austria was one of his mistakes.
Before every major tournament, the England manager of the day promises to take no risks with players who are not fully fit. But there is always someone in a race to prove his fitness after injury.
This year, it will be Jack Wilshere testing the resolve of the manager, if he is back in April as Arsene Wenger predicts. Wilshere's availability will have an impact on the balance of the team, but as England players have proved in the past, medically clear and free from pain does not necessarily mean ready to compete at an elite level.
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The squad will meet up somewhere around May 20, with plans afoot for a short, warm-weather training trip – probably three or four days in southern Spain.
In 2010, Capello named a 30-man squad and cut it to 23 after two warm-up games. In 2006, Sven Goran Eriksson named a 23-man squad plus five players on standby before two warm-up games.
This year, the two friendlies fall either side of UEFA's final deadline for the submission of all 23-man squads on May 29. On May 26 it is Norway v England in Oslo.
If England recruit a new boss like Redknapp, this will be his only chance to see the team in action before the squad is finalised.
On June 2, England face Belgium at Wembley. England must be at their base in Krakow, Poland, before June 6.
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SO, IT COULD BE HIM
Has steadfastly insisted he could never manage England yet the FA could strike at a vulnerable moment with his 15-year labour of love at Arsenal heading for the rocks.
Knows the culture and charms the media but suspects English players are technically inferior.
Like Wenger, usually claims he could not work for a country other than his own but he is creating such a show about his desire to work in London that it must be worth asking.
He knows how to win and understands the English mentality, even if his football and posturing are not always pretty.
Often hints at a desire to escape the unique pressure of managing Barcelona and would be Europe's most wanted coach after his magnificent work at the Nou Camp.
Whether, at 41, he is ready to move into international football remains to be seen.