LONDON COLNEY, April 1 – Fabio Capello believes Wayne Rooney can emulate Real Madrid icon Raul by becoming England's figurehead for the next decade.
Few players in Real’s illustrious history have ever been more closely associated with the famous white shirt than Raul.
The Spain forward has scored over 200 goals and made more than 500 appearances for Real since his debut in 1994, as well as helping the club win six La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues.
Raul’s leadership and eye for goal make him the quintessential Real player, while he is also Spain’s all-time leading scorer with 44 goals.
Capello has first-hand experience of Raul’s influence after coaching him during two spell as Real manager and he believes Rooney has the ability to have a similiar inspirational effect on England.
The Italian jokingly called Rooney a "crazy man" after his sending off for Manchester United against Fulham earlier this month. But that remark hid Capello’s huge admiration for a player who has rediscovered his appetite for international football under his new coach.
Rooney’s relatively barren goal-scoring run in the latter days of Sven Goran Eriksson’s reign continued under Steve McClaren, but he has scored seven times in his last four matches, including two against Slovakia on Saturday.
That impressive form earned Rooney the England fans’ Player of the Year award and moved Capello to wax lyrical about the 23-year-old.
"For the movement, for the passion and the leadership on the pitch, he is very similiar to Raul," Capello said.
"When I started the first time at Madrid, Raul was 19. He was very young but he was already a leader on the pitch."
Rooney’s fiery temperament has landed him in trouble several times, but Capello believes, properly harnessed, that fierce will to win could make him, like Raul, an ideal captain later in his career.
"Can Rooney be England captain? Why not? But you have to wait. Now we have a good captain in John Terry."
Capello hasn’t just had a positive impact on Rooney’s form. Under his regime, England’s underachieving stars are finally showing signs of fulfiling their potential at international level.
Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand both paid glowing tribute to his management style ahead of the Ukraine match, but Capello believes his players are simply responding to the respect he shows them.
"I think I respect the players, I respect the shirt, I respect the fans, and I respect all the people who work with us. Only this," Capello said.
"After that the quality of the players is very high. I said when I started they need the confidence. But the respect is very important.
"This is what players normally say when they are doing well. I respect the players and the most important thing is wanting to win.
"When you win you are the best, when you lose you are nothing. The future can say whether Fabio Capello was a good England manager or not."
Injuries to Emile Heskey, Carlton Cole and Darren Bent going into Wednesday’s clash tested the depth of Capello’s resources, but he is convinced there is enough English talent to cover for all eventualities on the road to next year’s World Cup in South Africa.
"In the last match Rio was injured and (Matthew) Upson played very well. Then (Theo) Walcott was out and (Aaron) Lennon and David (Beckham) came in. We have a lot of good players now," Capello said.
"Also the Under-21s are playing a lot of very interesting young English players. There are no problems for the future.
"There are some players who you don’t want to lose but the level of these players is very high."