9 Feb 2012

What went wrong for Fabio Capello?

As the FA’s David Bernstein says there is “clearly a preference” for the next England manager to be English, football writer John Anderson looks at what went wrong for Fabio Capello.

When Fabio Capello sat down to face the notoriously hard to please English media for the first time four years ago, he radiated the lustre of sagacity and success. But it did not last.

His personal trophy cabinet glittered with the sheen of Champions League, Serie A and La Liga triumphs; a stark contrast to Wembley’s cabinet, which has been host only to cobwebs since 1966.

On the “show us your medals” rationale employed by many players when assessing a new coach, he trumped them all. Furthermore, he exuded the indefatigable authority of a man who would curb the “wag” culture madness which had enveloped the squad at the 2006 World Cup.

What he also brought, though, was a stuttering grasp of the English language (which never seemed to improve) and the suspicion that his tenure would not be one of side-splitting hilarity or vivacious bonhomie.

Even to the Italian journalists present, this high-brow art lover was an aloof figure who only seemed capable of displaying his true feelings to a very tight-knit circle of friends and confidants.

'Clearly a preference for an Englishman'
Football Association chairman David Bernstein said the next England manager will ideally be English or British but must above all be "the best person" available.
Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp has emerged as the favourite for the post since Fabio Capello resigned. But he said earlier he has "not even thought about" the England manager's job.
Stuart Pearce, the England Under-21 and Great Britain Olympic team boss, has been put in caretaker charge for the friendly against Holland on 29 February.
Bernstein said at the Wembley press conference: "Clearly there's a preference for an Englishman. The position hasn't changed.
"There's a preference for an English person or a British person but in the end we want the best person.
"So I'm not prepared to rule out anything at this stage.
"Clearly an English or British person would have a good start on the matter."

’35 days without chips’

But while he proved adept at steering his slightly bemused and apprehensive squad of players through the drawn-out qualification process, it was a different matter once they arrived in South Africa for Capello’s first taste of international tournament football. The closeness and immediacy of the squad situation seemed to merely heighten his despotic and distant persona.

The decision to base England in a remote location, far removed from the pulse of the tournament, was an unpopular one with the players. Defender Jamie Carragher described them as being “bored out of our minds” in Rustenburg.

The almost puritanical daily food and drink regime wasn’t a great hit either; one FA insider called it “35 days without chips.”

Worst of all was the perception of a man who listened freely but was seldom swayed and who would rather confound his critics than admit defeat on any issue.

This approach had the effect of demotivating a talented squad who, at times, needed a pastoral and paternal touch rather than an authoritarian one.

Cry ‘go’ for Harry, England and St George?
When Harry Redknapp was acquitted of tax evasion charges, it cleared the way for him to replace Fabio Capello as England manager.
Could he succeed where so many have failed? Read more from Channel 4 News here

The calamitous culmination of this fermenting disunity came against Germany, and the Football Association was perhaps wrong not to hang the expense and sack Capello the very next day.

Instead they limped on through a loveless marriage which has finally reached the divorce courts – and the manner of the separation is very much in the Capello mould. His determination to back John Terry as England captain was irreversible, and the FA’s decision to defy those wishes were, in his words “insulting and damaging.”

Capello is not a man who takes kindly to being disagreed with, even by those who paid his exorbitant wages, and neither is he afraid to express his displeasure, albeit in Italian.

Will he be missed?

We can, I suppose, applaud a sense of nobility in sacrificing himself on the altar of principle, but the truth is he won’t be much missed by the media, the fans or, one suspects, the players, despite some positive valedictory tweets.

It is, of course, with a delicious and almost surreal sense of irony that the day had begun with a jury at Southwark Crown Court removing the one obstacle which would have prevented Harry Redknapp from succeeding Capello, should he so wish.

One suspects that, with Redknapp at the helm, smiles would be back on faces and chips back on the menu.

The FA’s desire to have an English manager has been made plain, and in this particular Englishman they seemingly have a ready-made heir whose general demeanour and management style could scarcely be in sharper contrast to that of the Italian.

One suspects that, with Redknapp at the helm, smiles would be back on faces and chips back on the menu.

So farewell Fabio and cry God for Harry, England, and St George.

John Anderson is a football commentator and author. You can follow him on Twitter via @GreatFaceRadio.