England's failure to reach the European Championship has given coach Fabio Capello a chance to spend his summer thinking about how to get to the next World Cup.
While many of his counterparts are fretting about how to negotiate a path through the first round of Euro 2008, Capello has been in Austria to watch Croatia and figure out a way to improve on the dismal results that left England with nothing to do during at the tournament.
It was home and away losses to Croatia that cost England a place at Euro 2008 and led to Capello replacing Steve McClaren, so, appropriately for someone who has won league titles with every club he has ever led, the Italian coach is mulling different systems and tactics to deal with a qualification campaign that begins in September.
Capello wants an approach that lets Joe Cole or Wayne Rooney express themselves and show what he refers to as "the fantasy:" the rare skill and imagination that only the most gifted and audacious players have.
"Modern football is a 9-1," Capello said Monday, exaggerating the habit of many sides to defend deep and in numbers. "Without 'fantasy' _ one player dribbling or good passing _ it is impossible to score goals.
"We have, not many, but some players with good fantasy. Very good players. You either have or do not have the fantasy. It's not possible to train it."
Having seen Croatia withstand a second-half fight back from Austria to beat the tournament co-hosts 1-0, Capello has plenty to think about.
Other than for an ill-fated experiment with 3-5-2 that led to a 2-0 defeat in Zagreb, McClaren largely stuck to a system of four midfielders behind a traditional pair of strikers. Neither pattern got the best out of a squad full of players with Champions League experience.
Michael Owen has struggled for fitness in recent years and is adapting to a new deeper role at Newcastle and Wayne Rooney is arguably too selfless to be a regular international scorer, so Capello seems to be considering a system similar to that Rooney plays under at Manchester United.
United won the Premier League and Champions League this season without a recognized center forward, with Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez swapping positions regularly throughout games to pull opponents out of position.
"(Jermain) Defoe has played well, (Peter) Crouch I know very well, (Dean) Ashton played, but that's the future," Capello said. "They are young, we have to wait. We have to find a different way, not waiting for a striker."
Capello said he has 19 names settled for when England begins its qualification campaign for the 2010 World Cup at Andorra on Sept. 6 and at Croatia four days later, leaving four spots in the squad still up for grabs.
Capello has already shaken up the squad after several years under McClaren and, previously, Sven-Goran Eriksson, when the England team was criticized for harboring too many underperforming stars.
The likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Rooney and Owen have been left in no doubt that if they cannot carry out Capello's instructions and fit the role he envisages for them, they will be left on the sidelines. And although he has retained David Beckham, Capello is adamant that reputation does not enter his thinking.
"I always decide the group on conditions, mentality _ not the name," Capello said. "I never won with the name, but with the group and the quality of the players. If I choose this player, I choose this player because I think he is a very good player, the best at the moment."
The approach has worked so far with performances improving steadily throughout Capello's first four matches, and players from clubs outside of England's top four of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool putting in good performances.
Defoe, Gareth Barry and David Bentley are among those to get a chance under the new coach, helping allay any fears he had after an uninspiring 2-1 win over Switzerland in his opening match back in February.
"I was very worried because I didn't see the spirit and the English character," Capello said. "After four games, I am very happy because step by step we moved on and we have found the spirit of the group. In the last two games, we pressed a lot and we won back the ball quickly."
Capello again emphasized that, unlike with Eriksson, Champions League experience is not necessarily preferred when he is weighing up which players to pick.
"I remember a lot of players who didn't make the Champions League but who are very good with their national team," Capello said. "With the English shirt or the Italian shirt, it is different. You don't play for the club or for 2 million (fans), you play for England or for Italy."