Sting of first true failure can spark Capello revolution
Fabio Capello has never really failed at anything before. As a player, he won Serie A four times and the Coppa Italia twice.
As a manager, he was unbeaten in his first 58 games, and won nine league titles in 16 seasons with Milan, Real Madrid, Roma and Juventus. He has a multi-million pound art collection. He reads Tolstoy and Kapuscinski. He even married his teenage sweetheart.
The England national team? The golden generation proved immune to the Midas of Milan. In the wake of England's defeat, he appeared baffled and bemused. He was told he was being put under review by Dave Richards, Club England chairman.
Talk about an assault on dignity. That review, we were told, would be a forensic investigation into what had gone wrong in this World Cup campaign. Two weeks it would take. It lasted four days. Trying to coax even a respectable performance out of these England players has brought Capello to his knees.
Having been given the thumbs up, Capello now faces two challenges that are new to him. First he must re-establish the authority that it has taken decades on the continent to establish and one English summer to undermine. Second, he must fight his instinctive conservatism and take radical decisions on how to revivify this England team.
The Club England board made the decision to back Capello publicly on Friday. Why they did not follow through with their plan for this review? And if not then what was the point in making Capello appear vulnerable? Capello's methods demand absolute authority over his staff and players. His employers have undermined that.
The FA were privately insisting that money had nothing to do with their decision and whether or not you believe them, there was no credible alternative out there anyway. So, Capello must rebuild a previously unimpeachable reputation. The priority in this regard is making himself understood.
This is a verbatim transcript of his answer to the first question -- on player fatigue -- directed his way during his debriefing of Sunday newspapers in Rustenburg:
"We try to understand what happened. We analyse the different (undecipherable) of the players to understand but I think it is not only the body tired, also the mind. This is the problem, the mind. Too many games. The energies." In Capello's defence, he was tired and had answered a barrage of questions before. Yet the problem is still evident. In success, opacity can be an asset; in failure it is emphatically a weakness. Whether it means speaking in Italian with a translator, Capello's recovery plan needs to be delivered with clarity. Slowly that will bring back his authority.
His second challenge is fighting against his instinctive conservatism. For a 64-year-old Italian from the political right that is easier said than done. He needs to make a substantial break with the team that failed here in South Africa and the short-term approach that brought calls up for Jamie Carragher and Ledley King. The England national team needs a new identity, young and hungry.
Asked if the South African failure represented an end of an era, he replied, "for some players, maybe". Hardly the stuff of Robespierre. But Capello must be ruthless and take risks. At Euro 2012 John Terry will be 31, Steven Gerrard 32, Rio Ferdinand 33, and Frank Lampard 34. If they were tired here, what are they going to be if England get to Poland and Ukraine?
It is Gerrard who perhaps best embodies the problem with this England team. The captain is inspirational, physically courageous and can strike the ball as cleanly as anyone. Yet he is tactically illiterate.
Arsene Wenger makes a telling point about Cesc Fabregas. He says he has watched playbacks of games and paused when Fabregas gets the ball. He then takes his time deciding what the best pass would be. He presses play and nearly every time Fabregas makes the right pass. For Fabregas, read Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso or Sergio Busquets.
Gerrard, by contrast, is always trying to win the game in one swing of the boot, with a raking cross-field pass when a short 10-yard one is needed.
Capello's two challenges -- the reassertion of personal authority and the forging of a new identity for this team -- are not mutually exclusive. A new younger team might prove more receptive to his ideas than this group evidently were. Perhaps they will not assume they know better than the manager. Perhaps they will not moan about being bored or not liking each other very much. Perhaps then Capello can bring success to the England national team. He won't want to fail again.