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Laurens: Pastore matures for PSG

Ligue 1 16 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Dec 18, 2007

Fixtures conundrum for Capello

High on Fabio Capello's 'to do' list when he officially takes up his role as new England manager on January 7 will be to thrash out the fixture list for the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign.

With no competitive game until the autumn, the 61-year-old certainly has plenty of time to weigh up just who is fit to wear the Three Lions shirt with a renewed sense of pride.

However, just where England will begin their campaign to reach South Africa remains to be seen.

Only one of the six teams will go through automatically from the qualifying group, which also includes Croatia - architects of Steve McClaren's downfall - Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Andorra.

The meeting to arrange the fixtures was originally scheduled to be held in Zagreb on December 19. However, that was postponed until early in the new year.

The scheduling of the winter fixtures, particularly in the likes of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, are likely to be crucial.

One option would be to press for a 'double-header', with two of the tricky away trips taken care of in the space of a week.

However, with some 3,479 air miles between London and Almaty on the borders of the Russian Federation and Asia, the Kazakhstan game may well be considered enough of a journey in itself.

Perennial European whipping boys Andorra, meanwhile, play their major 'home' games in Barcelona, so would not provide such a logistical issue.

Finishing the campaign at Wembley may have back-fired against the Croats for McClaren's men, but England remain a difficult team to beat at their own national stadium, having secured decent results in the run-up to that all-or-nothing showdown in which they failed to deliver when it mattered.

During yesterday's unveiling in London, Capello talked about building his plans during the four friendly matches between now and the opening of the qualifying campaign.

Two of those have already been confirmed - against Euro 2008 co-hosts Switzerland at Wembley on February 6 and a trip to Paris for an encounter with France the following month.

However, just what England's plans will be for the end of the season while other countries are stepping up preparations for the summer tournament remain open to debate.

A clash with Auld Enemy Scotland has not yet been ruled out, with the fixture sure to fill Wembley - though it would open Capello up to possible embarrassment should his men fail to produce a comprehensive performance.

There has been plenty of interest from other sides who have qualified for the European Championships, with England remaining attractive opponents despite not making it to the finals themselves.

A game against Holland remains a possibility, the two nations having drawn 1-1 in Amsterdam during November 2006.

There has also been suggestion of a short overseas tour, perhaps to the United States or the Far East, where the English game is extremely popular.

The final decision, though, will rest with Capello, who has already indicated no-one can take anything for granted when his reign at Soho Square begins in earnest in three weeks' time.

Before then, the Football Association board are scheduled to meet on Thursday, where the future of the much-maligned National Football Centre at Burton-upon-Trent - not to mention which Englishman could make Capello's backroom staff - is set to be on the agenda.

Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development, maintains the development is of the highest importance to safeguard the future of the national game, both in terms of coaches and players alike.

'If we don't get it right the England coach's job will get that much harder,' he declared. 'Unless we take the initiative now, missing Euro 2008 would be even more of a sacrilege.

'We must not let the debate on coaching and player development drop. We must invest and transform what we do.

'In other countries there is no doubt that the governing body takes the lead.

'The governing body has to look long term. We are the only ones looking that far forward and that is why I believe we should co-ordinate it.'

Brooking added: 'There is an opportunity next summer.

'There is quite a lot of money coming into the professional part of the organisation and we have got to try to persuade those board members if we can protect it, ring fence it and invest it in a long-term future for the English players and the coaches, then we can bring them through.

'Obviously it has got to be done sensibly and we have got to get value for money - but this is a one-off opportunity we have never had before and let's hope we can take it forward.'

The National Football Centre initiative is the brainchild of former FA technical director Howard Wilkinson, but has been on ice for the past 12 months as Soho Square officials concentrated their efforts on getting Wembley up and running, then negotiating massively improved new television deals.

Brooking is convinced the income from those new contracts should be used to complete the £60million centre at Burton which, when finished, will comprise eight training pitches, as well as provide a hub for all FA training and medical facilities.

Most coaches and players believe the idea, modelled on the outstandingly successful French academy at Clarefontaine, would be a major boost to the game in this country, helping to address a decline in standards that has been noted across Europe.

However, there is major opposition in some quarters, notably from Premier League chairman Sir David Richards, who feels the expense represents a waste of money, and also Football League chairman Lord Mawhinney.

An alternative view would be to have a number of regional centres across the country, rather than a single site.

Four options are said to be under review - to scrap the scheme altogether, give the green light to an amended pro-Clarefontaine proposal, push the deal through as it stands or redevelop the site - which has already cost the FA £20million - with another business partner.