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Fabio Capello and England’s Future



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Fabio Capello is one of the most successful football managers on the contemporary scene (see how Capello stands against top managers) – and yet the British press (as well as misguided observers across the world) have contrived to poke holes into the FA’s decision, calling it hasty, damaging to the English game and generally bad for England’s future.

Considering that the footballing authorities in England have a track record for bungling matters and hurting the future of the game in England, this sentiment is not surprising. However, when you see otherwise respected journalists pander to jingoistic emotions is disappointing – surely Richard Williams and his ilk have been in the business long enough to separate personal opinions from fact and deal accordingly?

This article deals with several issues raised in the last week – the ‘English v Foreigner’ debate, whether it was smart to ‘decide so early’, whether Capello will be good for England (no flair? the horror!) and of course, the potential England lineup under Fabio.

English v Foreigner

Is it racist or overtly patriotic to blame foreigners for the lack of chances Englishmen get in football (whether as players or as managers)? Considering that England (and Great Britain) have historically been the greatest proponents of capitalism and free markets, it smacks of hypocrisy that they complain when they themselves are victims of the social and economic system they labored so hard to spread throughout the world.

Premier League clubs have laboured to bring in the best talents available to them in order to succeed – and the marketing machine that is the Premier League has ensured that the money is available to these teams to bring in such players. Even top clubs with a strong English spine – Manchester United and Chelsea – rely on foreigners as their star players. Most importantly, none of the top four have a reliable English keeper or an English creative midfielder (SWP apart) – areas where the England team lacks sorely.

Whose door do you lay the blame on – the clubs for not selecting below-average talent or for the English academies and youth setup that produces that below-average talent?

Just as England are not producing the best talent in terms of players, they also do not have managers with sufficient pedigree to lead England to a trophy. With all due respect to Harry Redknapp, Sam Allardyce, Martin O’Neill, Steve Coppell, Alan Curbishley, Mark Hughes and David Moyes, do you think superstars like Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney would respect these managers? A big part of the national team manager’s job is to command respect from his players. With Lippi’s record as a World Cup winner and Capello’s outstanding record as the manager of Juventus and Real Madrid (amongst other clubs), there is no doubt that they would command instant respect.

And that’s before we start talking about tactical nous and ability to win tough games – things that Capello has in abundance. You cannot command troops without having their respect, and you cannot win trophies without knowing how to win unwinnable games from unwinnable situations. The English or British managers plumped for as successors offer neither, whereas the foreigners (from Mourinho to Hiddink to Scolari to Lippi to Capello) offer both.

The FA’s mandate is to ensure that England are successful on the international stage. This means that they should nurture English talent AND it means that they should appoint the best possible manager for the job. They’ve finally gotten it right on the latter, perhaps they can now concentrate on the former as Capello leads England to South Africa 2010?

‘Selecting the Manager Now’ vs ‘Selecting a Manager Later’

Richard Williams – respected Guardian columnist – considers that the FA acted too hastily in selecting a foreign coach and that they should have waited, solved the problem of England not having an ‘English’ manager and then gone with the footballing equivalent of a Darren Fletcher as first-choice manager next year. Groom an ‘English’ manager, Richard says, and unfortunately, with the authority behind his proverbial pen more and more idiotic England supporters will think that Capello is the wrong choice purely because he is non-English.

The England managerial post is no place for a manager to be ‘groomed’ – he either earns his chops at the club level – as Capello and Hiddink have done – or he earns them by managing smaller nations (once again, Hiddink comes to mind). People will point to the examples of Scolari, Klinsmann and even Domenech in saying that you don’t need to be a successful club-level manager to be great at the international level, but to be fair, Klinsmann is an exception and both Scolari and Domenech have powerful personalities that have gone a long way in determining their success. Once again, no ‘English’ manager comes close –

The deeper question here is this – why don’t English players travel abroad to play in other leagues? Why don’t English managers travel abroad to manage clubs in other leagues? The money is a major factor, but this is a case where the FA needs to work harder to expose their players and managers to a broader spectrum of education. Unless that is done, these players and managers will not be talented enough to play / manage at the top level. Forcing these players into top squads and these managers into top managerial positions when they are not ready / not capable of doing the job will only cause failures at club and international level.

England’s problems – that of talentless players and inept managers – can be worked on in the next 3 years while Capello works his magic on the current crop of England players. A national academy plus a concerted effort to export players and managers to different playing environments will go a long way towards improving the standard of players and managers – however this requires a commitment that the FA yet has to demonstrate.

Can Capello deliver the goods for England?

Some have questioned whether Capello was the right choice as England manager – citing his nationality (and the language barrier), the price tag, his inability to play flair football and quite surprisingly, how he would handle the poor resources at his disposal considering the riches he had to deal with at Milan, Juve, Roma and Madrid.

Capello’s managerial record is fabulous, so is his ability to deal with the media (at Real Madrid he did a better job than Schuster is doing right now). In his backroom staff he has the resources necessary to whip the less-than-average England squad into shape. In time (and with an English ‘assistant’ on board), Fabio will be able to overcome the language barrier as well.

People who argue that teams should play football ‘beautifully’ misunderstand two important factors – that the players themselves have to be good enough to play that style of football, and that winning takes precedence over everything else. Capello places his emphasis on winning (as opposed to not losing – there’s a big difference) and his sides are characterised by mental toughness and their ability to win. Shades of Jose Mourinho? It would be fair to say that you’d see shades of Capello in Mourinho’s teams.

As David James aptly puts it, the biggest benefit Capello will bring to England will be his ability to get the maximum out of his players, including a level of mental toughness never seen before in England colours. If Capello can get his players to play at their potential, England will already be in with a good chance of matching, and possibly improving, on Eriksson’s results as England manager. That’s good, no?

England’s first-team players are sometimes maligned for being an over-hyped, untalented bunch of prima-donas. It’s true that England do not possess the striking riches of Spain or the overall strength in depth of Italy, but this side does have good players and there are few better than Capello when it comes to getting the best of players.

Potential England Lineup under Fabio Capello

Capello’s former charges have been woefully abstract and ineloquent in describing what England will be like under Capello – so let’s look at this closely:

  • Capello’s team formations are flexible and he adapts his team according to the needs of the game. We can expect pretty much the same from him where England are concerned, and training will most likely have a strong emphasis on tactical discipline, something that former England teams have been found lacking in.
  • Capello will drop big names, so expect to see Terry, Gerrard, Lampard, Joe Cole, David Beckham, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney on the bench more often than before. He picks players who are working hard for their place in the team, players who are on the upward curve in their form as opposed to players on the downward slope. If a player delivers the goods for his club but not for his country, he won’t be starting for Capello.
  • There’s a good chance that Terry will stay as captain, but I would prefer a change – not because of any animosity towards Terry but because I think England need to be shaken to the core, both in terms of playing style and in the player-level alliances and influence on how the team plays. England need a captain who will lead the players on and off the pitch, and Terry’s performances in an England shirt are lacking of respect. Who is an able replacement? Not Stevie G, so the door is wide open for a shouter like Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves to pick up the pieces. Still, this is my view and not what I think Capello will do.
  • Expect England to heavily experiment in the upcoming friendlies – and for Capello to indicate his preferred players and lineup.
  • Jim Riggio makes a good point about ‘naturalising’ Carlo Cudicini and making him England’s #1 at the expense of Carson, Robinson and Green – whatever Capello does, I expect that our defensive and goalkeeping problems will be dealt with.
  • Players like David Beckham and Joe Cole (and even Steven Gerrard) – more ‘specialists’ in the England lineup than 90-minute solutions – will have a greater role to play from the bench, and you’ll see England winning games from the bench a lot more.
  • England will be tough as nails under Capello (he will tolerate nothing less) and from that alone you can say goodbye to the days of insipid draws and embarrassing defeats. In fact, you could argue that England players will improve and play better for their clubs after being under Capello’s tutelage.

And now, for some wishful thinking – assuming that Capello can convince Carragher and Paul Scholes to return to the international lineup (although Scholesy is probably too old for South Africa 2010), a possible Capello-esque England would look like this:

Starting XI: Foster, Richards, Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Hargreaves, Gerrard, Downing, Rooney, Walcott
Bench: Green, Carragher, Brown, Lampard, Lennon / Joe Cole / Young, Scholes, Owen

Feel free to put your ideal England lineup in the comments below.

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