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Nov 17, 2008

Capello taking a backward step with replacements

So the curse of the England friendly raises its ugly head again.

Already without Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Wes Brown and Ashley Cole, England coach Fabio Capello was already looking at the bare bones of squad and is now forced to face the loss of central midfielders Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard as well.

Both players picked up knocks at the weekend, although one suspects that if there had been a crucial Champions League clash on Wednesday instead of a ''pointless'' friendly, they would have made a remarkable recovery.

Still, while Capello may yet force his injured stars to make the trip to Berlin to receive treatment from the England medical staff, it offers a unique opportunity to see the next set of superstars on show.

Or does it? In calling up Jimmy Bullard and Scott Parker as replacements, Capello is going against the very philosophy that saw him name 20-year-old Michael Mancienne in his squad at the weekend.

The Italian should be applauded for taking the kind of chances on youth that saw Theo Walcott blossom against Croatia and Mancienne, along with the likes of Gabby Agbonlahor and Curtis Davies, has the potential to make a similar impact in the future.

England should be trying to develop their young talent in friendlies, and whatever your opinion of Parker (28) and Bullard (30) as players, one thing they most certainly aren't is young.

The West Ham midfielder may become the first player to get the first four of his caps while playing for different clubs, but despite having a reputation as a tough tackler, has not covered himself in glory this year. If anything, central midfield partner Mark Noble would offer more for Capello - if he wasn't injured - and it should also be noted that Parker last started for England in the 2-0 loss to Croatia in Zagreb under Steve McClaren, a game in which he failed to find his feet.

Unwilling to try Bullard out against Andorra or Croatia in games that mattered, it is also odd that the Fulham man should be given his chance to shine in Germany (a country for whom he is still eligible to play for), when there are others who perhaps warrant a call.

Particularly the Tottenham pairing of Tom Huddlestone and Jermaine Jenas can consider themselves unlucky to be overlooked. Huddlestone's form is one of the main reasons for his club's recent revival, while Jenas has been part of Capello's squad before and should certainly be above the likes of Bullard in the pecking order.

Kieran Richardson, David Bentley and Nigel Reo-Coker are others who represent the future of England's midfield and, if Capello is to use friendlies to blood his young players into the senior squad, should be part of the setup. So too Man City's Michael Johnson when he regains his fitness.

Regardless of whether they actually play a part in the Berlin game, it seems England would get a lot more out of their young charges by having them around the camp in games like this.

Bringing in 30-year-olds who won't even get their feet on the pitch at the expense of blossoming talent seems like a backwards step.

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