Now that Fabio Capello has done the only honourable thing and stuck by his beliefs in resigning from the England managerial post, our national pride and glory is left whistling in the wind as, once more, the nation reluctantly and unconfidently puts its hopes and dreams in the hands of the Football Association to find a suitable man to lead England to Euro 2012 glory. Nothing less will be enough – it never is in this bizarre, parallel universe the media deports us all to every time the cream of the nation’s talent takes the pitch in the service of the Three Lions.
I have very little faith in the FA’s ability to get this decision right. The last four managers they have selected have all had their failings. Kevin Keegan was, when all is said and done, an emotional choice rather than a logical one. Sven-Goran Eriksson, while mostly successful on the pitch, was hounded out by his inability to keep out of the tabloids (Ulrika Jonsson, fake sheikhs, repeated courting of club interest). Steve McClaren… well, let’s not. At least he stayed dry.
And then there’s Fabio.
Probably, arguably, the best manager ever to have been appointed as the England boss. Seven – seven – Serie A titles. Two La Liga crowns in separate stints at Real Madrid. A Champions’ League trophy. In all, Don Fabio arrived at Grosvenor House with nine league titles in 16 years as a manager, and a total of 16 trophies.
So, undoubtedly, he had the credentials. But Capello lacked two things vital to an England manager’s chances of success. He seemed incapable of forming any connection with his players, and he doesn’t speak English.
When Capello arrived in England in February 2008, optimistic Englishmen and proud Italians alike celebrated the appointment of such an accomplished coach to such a prestigious post. The tactician arrived in England promising to bring back professionalism in the England set-up (McClaren’s partiality for nicknames was a thing of the past), and confidently predicted he would be able to dispense with his translator within three months. From around the Premier League, England’s stars gave near-unanimous approval, although there was little comment from Capello’s one-time enemy David Beckham, who had previously found himself ostracised under the Italian at Madrid.
There is no need to try to argue that Capello didn’t achieve results early in his time with England. That near-perfect qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup promised far greater than the performances at the tournament delivered. But his squad selection for South Africa – an unfit Ledley King and an out-of-form Emile Heskey being selected ahead of the likes of Theo Walcott – was the beginning of the long and awkward end.
No doubt everyone has heard the horror-stories of England’s reserve players knowing they wouldn’t feature at the tournament, going out of their minds with boredom at the team’s isolated Bloemfontein base and being shut out of tactical meetings. Capello can’t be blamed for the location – that was the FA’s choice – but his failure to bring this squad together as a unit seems as grave a failure as any committed by Eriksson or McClaren. He allowed his own selection policy to poison the atmosphere of a team that should have been so much better in a straight-forward group.
By the turn of 2012, Capello appeared to have lost his enthusiasm for the job. Perhaps he realised that it was an impossible balancing act. His defensive tactics – the same stubbornness that saw him win Madrid La Liga in 2006 and promptly get fired – failed to inspire either his players or his fans as soon as the goals dried up, even though I would maintain Eriksson was far worse for his habit of sitting back on one-goal leads. The John Terry saga was hovering uncomfortably over the entire team and between them, Capello and the FA failed spectacularly in attempting to sweep it aside. And, most damning of all, the translator was still at Fabio’s side four years after his appointment.
His results have never been the problem – England under Capello have won practically every game you would expect them to win. Thing is, that isn’t enough for an England manager. You have to win the games no-one expects you to win, too. Against the likes of Spain, Brazil and France in friendlies, and in their woeful submission to that inspirational Germany team in Bloemfontein, England were nowhere, lacking the invention to create chances and the solidity to resist their more talented opponents. On such games are England managers judged – and Capello failed the most important tests.
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