Friday 23 February 2018

Paul Hayward: One tournament, one second-round exit and £20m in wages -- Don Fabio's epitaph

Paul Hayward

Since Kevin Keegan resigned in the vicinity of the old Wembley toilets, the English FA have burned £50m in wages on two A-list foreign managers. Sven-Goran Eriksson's reign fizzled out. The Fabio Capello years ended with a cosmic bang.

After yesterday's resignation drama the FA will need to explain why so much of the game's money was squandered on the belief that a famous Eurocrat could solve English football's deep structural problems and dysfunctionalism.

This extravagance has left them managerless five months before a European Championship and advertised the intellectual poverty of dialling international rescue to impress the public.

Capello arrived as the antidote to Eriksson, who at least steered England to tournament quarter-finals back in the years of laissez-faire. After 'Zen-Goran', Steve McClaren was hired solely because Luis Felipe Scolari turned the job down after indicating a willingness to take the FA's coin.

From the nadir of non-qualification for Euro 2008, the FA were bound to lurch towards order and experience.

If Eriksson appeared as the epitome of Swedish cool, Capello was welcomed as a martinet, a strong man who would impose order on the ruined golden generation. On the face of it there was no reason to doubt that one of Europe's premier club managers would be able to transfer his acumen to the international arena, where he was a novice.

Those league titles in Spain and Italy dazzled like jewels on a boxer's belt. A country that had interpreted Eriksson's sage-like calm as professorial depth now turned to something more recognisably English: Capello's school-masterly vibe, his intolerance of lateness, mobile phones and sloppy dress.

The McClaren era made England feel that no home-grown coach was remotely qualified to sort out the mess left by 'the wally with the brolly'. In that sense Don Fabio faced an open goal.

Through World Cup qualification England displayed impressive tenacity in far-flung countries but advanced with more or less the same group of players Capello had inherited. His diagnosis was low self-esteem. He said again and again this could be cured.

England were "afraid" -- cowed by expectation. He would make them play as they did for their clubs in Champions League games -- his only real window on the English culture.

The first sign of trouble came with the launch of the Capello Index, a money-making stunt that was dropped when it was explained to Capello that rating players during a tournament England were playing in was not the smartest idea.

With his squad of assistants from the old country, Capello had turned the side into Englatalia. Nothing wrong with that, except that his own communication skills were poor.

Privately many players grumbled about his aloofness, his verbal aggression on the training ground. This coldness had caused Capello problems at Real Madrid. He made quick decisions about players and seldom changed them. Micah Richards has felt the frosty air of the manager's disapproval.

In press conferences Capello was curt, high-handed and sometimes incoherent. His English never advanced beyond first base. All this would have been ignorable had England not embarrassed themselves in South Africa.

Rob Green's goalkeeping howler against USA in the opener brought the old fatalism crashing across the camp.

Capello took injured players to the World Cup and paid the price. He was unable to solve Wayne Rooney's ennui and imposed an absurdly austere regime on the players in a remote outpost. In the 0-0 draw with Algeria, England were so bad that John Terry suggested a few beers afterwards so the players could discuss what was going wrong.

Under the world's gaze England reverted to sterile type, mostly playing 4-4-2 while the smarter countries exploited the spaces between those lines.

After a lamentable group stage the reckoning came with a chastening 4-1 defeat to Germany.

The catalyst for Capello's downfall was, of course, his mishandling of the captaincy, for which he first auditioned Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry and then settled on the Chelsea man, believing, with some justification, that Terry brought conviction to a fragile squad.

This was the start of a dismal moral hokey-cokey which saw Terry stripped of the armband for allegedly consorting with a team-mate's ex, then reinstated when Capello began to "feel sorry for him" after his year in purdah.

We all know what happened next. The FA's decision to remove Terry from that over-rated office until his trial is heard on July 9 was met by Capello as a challenge to his authority. By 7.30pm yesterday, he was the ex-England manager, on a day when the probable next one, Harry Redknapp, was acquitted on charges of tax evasion.

One tournament, £20m-plus in wages and one second-round exit. This is the epitaph of the Capello years. After the World Cup he spoke of the need for youth and reinvigoration.

One bright spot is that he has overseen the introduction of a new wave who may be too raw to trouble Spain in Poland and Ukraine but will form the basis of a new side.

Joe Hart, Jack Wilshere, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and perhaps Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are the gems Capello leaves behind. Not that he could have failed to spot the gleam. Few will feel they knew him well and almost no England player will mourn his departure.

In that sense his resignation is immaterial. It may even improve England's chances. It creates a vacancy that will have to be filled but it removes the sense that a false relationship was at the heart of the English game.

Capello was never the master of this team, but he was of his own fate -- and chose to walk away. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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