Fabio Capello has been confirmed as England’s new messiah until 2012, on a contract reportedly worth 6.5 million pounds a year by the Football Association on Friday. It is not all cheer in England though. A great debate has ensued: will Capello usher in a new dawn for England’s football or will he fail terribly like so many of his predecessors?
On paper, Capello is outstanding and he has won a league title at every club he has ever managed. For the record, it is nine league titles in Italy and Spain (although the two he achieved with Juventus in 2005 and 2006 were stripped off in an Italian match-fixing scandal), Capello also took AC Milan to Champions League glory in 1994.
As a player, he did credibly too, winning 32 caps for his country and scored for Italy against England at the old Wembley in 1973 to secure the Azzurri’s first win over the Three Lions.
Whichever way you cut it, he fits the requirements of a “world class” manager but the outcry emanating from some quarters in England will have outsiders believing that the FA has bungled up again - it appears Capello is going to drag England through a new malaise…
Gareth Southgate, Steve Coppell and Mark Hughes are among those who have voiced their criticisms. Former England captain Paul Ince described Capello’s impending appointment is a “sad indictment of English football”. He said: “But when you build your CV up and they go out and get a foreign manager, sometimes you think, ‘what’s the point?’”
Of all people, Ince wants to complain. Does he seriously think that he can step in as England’s manager for his lacklustre performance as a club manager? And what kind of CV is he talking about for English managers? If they are so good, then why aren’t any being employed at the Big Four or the top European clubs, maybe the headhunters have missed out something? Ince is just making a pathetic case for himself, I believe.
Those who are in support of Ince’s views prefer to see England fail than to see a foreign coach come in and implement a tried and tested system which will set the corner stone for England in future campaigns. Look at Real Madrid even after Capello has left, the ills plaguing the team from the galacticos seasons have been eradicated and it is up to the next coach to build on a functioning championship team.
Certainly, in England’s context, it will not be smooth sailing. Language is a barrier. Capello’s grasp of English is basic and over time, it will be more effective for him to develop his English sufficiently to forge a bond with his players and the media. Imagine the players staring blankly at the manager and then waiting for the translation to come from his assistant.
Nevertheless, Capello has time on his hands to brush up on his English as his team does not have any competitive matches in a long time. His first matches in charge will be two friendlies: against Switzerland at Wembley on February 6 and against France in Paris on March 26. The real test will come in September 2008, when England begin their bid to qualify for South Africa 2010.
There is also the midfield conundrum of Gerrard and Lampard to resolve. For the strict defensive approach which Capello espouses, he will have no qualms ditching either one of them. He needs a holding midfielder who can search and destroy, Owen Hargreaves or Gareth Barry revel in this role of disrupting the opposition’s attacks and will be key options for Capello.
A strong goalkeeper has always followed Capello’s reign. In England, he will be deprived of this luxury. Steve McClaren’s choice of Scott Carson cost him dearly but his hand was forced by Paul Robinson’s lapses. Manchester United’s Ben Foster still needs much schooling while Robert Green is as fresh as a virgin. Capello can turn to Calamity James for experience but he will have sleepless nights once he reviewed the past errors which James have committed.
Capello is known for ruling with an iron fist and it has proven to be very effective at club level. But as a national coach, he will be held at ransom by club managers who are reluctant to release their best players for international duties, especially when they are in the midst of a white-hot competition.
It would be unproductive to head for a showdown with the clubs as they are the paymasters of these prima-donnas. Given a choice between playing for England and endangering their already short playing career, the players will make a smart choice. They know where their priorities lie as they are being paid massively inflated wages (which they will not get anywhere else). Though the World Cup Finals is prestigious, most will feel that that the qualifying rounds of meeting the likes of Andorra and Kazakhstan are redundant. The challenge is to make the players feel proud of representing England, in qualifying stages as well as friendly matches.
Capello will also have to struggle with recovering momentum after a lull and the players lost some of the telepathy after not playing together for an extended period. The need to have enough back-ups for each position cannot be underestimated too as there are always injuries to the key players after a taxing season.
With all these challenges in mind, the fans have to temper their expectations. If the xenophobic and at times, bipolar, media starts screaming “Crapello” after some tame performances or unpopular decisions, then everything will fall apart again.
Give Capello time to build a fighting machine. That may require breaking down the current ensemble and start from scratch to create a team which plays for one another and with a winner’s mentality. I have no doubt that he will proceed with earnest, in his usual methodical and ruthless style, and once that is done, England will instill fear and respect into their opponents.
The FA should give him a free hand and all the necessary support too. That means green-lighting the make-up of Capello’s backroom staff and coaching methods. That is the basis of his winning formula and you take it wholesale or leave it. The FA should have people taking notes on what makes Capello ticks as this could be the blueprint of success for future England managers.
I think the one thing Capello has in his favour is his reputation which, any self-respecting professional footballer will want to work with him and look at international football as a way to improve themselves. Capello has enough stature to create such an atmosphere for England.
As for Jose Mourinho, I supported his candidacy previously but I have since given up on a man who chickened out at the last minute. He did not want to put his reputation on the line and unravel his past achievements with this appointment. Just as well… there is nothing to be said when you have an uncommitted coach who is afraid of repercussions as you will end up with players who perform likewise.
Capello has indicated his desire to take on this beautiful challenge right from the start and the FA has reciprocated. The Italian has achieved everything possible at club level and he is at an age where he no longer craves the day-to-day involvement with players but his passion for the game remains undiminished.
Forget Mourinho, herald the new era under Capello for the Three Lions and enjoy the prospect of being world-beaters. It will be a crowning achievement for Capello as he writes himself a chapter in England’s history and the golden generation will benefit from his tutelage too. Mourinho will eat his heart out when he sees Capello and company standing on the top of the world.