Capello opted to play the less experienced Chris Smalling here, after only a handful of games for Manchester United in the position, and failed even to find a place on the bench for Richards. The Manchester City defender has begun to hint he cannot see an England future for himself until Capello leaves, and he is probably glad that will only be next year. Much more of this sort of messing around and Richards could start to feel as dissatisfied as Jamie Carragher, who retired when he came to the conclusion that Steve McClaren liked to include him in squads but had little intention of ever playing him. In fairness Smalling had a sound game and mostly kept Martin Petrov quiet, but Richards probably feels he could do that any day of the week.
Both players have started the season brightly with Manchester United but not everything they tried together here came off. Often they seemed unsure of who was supposed to be the front man and occasionally both dropped deep together in search of the same ball. There was little to complain about after Rooney climbed like John Terry to crash home Stewart Downing's corner to make the game safe with the second goal in under half an hour, however, and Rooney's attitude and demeanour amounted to a welcome return to the player of old. All smiles even in the warm-up, Rooney worked hard and covered a lot of ground, at one point in the first half managing to get back to his own penalty area to lecture his defence. For Young, on the other hand, substituted before the end, the evening proved to be an unexpectedly disappointing one.
Capello has given the Arsenal player enough chances to repeat his virtuoso display from Zagreb three years ago but, though Walcott contributed well to the third goal on the stroke of half-time and provided the cross from which Stewart Downing headed against a post, there were few flashes of blistering, unanswerable pace. England's 4-2-3-1 formation coped well enough, particularly in defence, where two sitting midfielders provided ample insurance against what threat Bulgaria could muster. Yet one feels Capello goes for the attacking three behind Rooney to maximise pace and penetration and it is up to Walcott to provide the former, ideally with the other England players looking to find space for him to run into. As this did not happen, and as Young and Rooney tended to duplicate each other in the middle, there might be a case for restoring Young to a wide position, which is actually what Capello asked him to do in the second half before withdrawing him for James Milner.
There were conspicuous banks of empty seats down the sides of the Vasil Levski National Stadium on Friday night, though that was more to do with the pricing policy and the parlous state of the Bulgarian economy than England's unconvincing recent performances. In what seems a bargain by English standards, the best seats in the ground were available for 40 Bulgarian lev (around £20), the next price band was 30 lev and seats behind both goals could be had for a mere 10 lev (£5). It was the intermediate price band that the public of Sofia rejected.
"Too expensive for the average Bulgarian household," a local journalist explained. "At 20 Lev the seats might have sold out, but not enough people can afford 30."
Capello said he was pleased the midfielder's transfer to Spurs had gone through but Parker is playing well enough to have stayed in the squad anyhow. Slightly unlucky to be booked in an unusually advanced position in the first half, Parker was otherwise a model of discipline and unspectacular industry, even launching the attack that led to the third goal by uncomplainingly taking a ball full in the face. Until such time as Owen Hargreaves is being selected again, and there is no immediate danger of that judging by the bemusement with which Capello greeted the suggestion a day before the game, Parker looks the business and Barry will be the one worrying about who makes way when Steven Gerrard returns.