Thursday 25 April 2019

Culture of the players not lost in translation for Capello

The nationality of the manager is not the cause of England's long litany of failure, writes Dion Fanning

The English have always understood irony. On Thursday, the FA announced that they would prefer an English successor to an Italian who had resigned when the FA took a strong stand against racism by removing the captaincy from the Englishman facing trial for a racially aggravated public order offence.

If they can't get an Englishman, they would like somebody British. If not British, then they would consider a foreigner but only if he has better English than Fabio Capello. "Next time we'd expect the manager to be a bit more fluent," the FA chairman David Bernstein said.

Harry Redknapp, who was cleared of charges of tax evasion on Wednesday and must clearly believe in the principle of innocent until proven guilty, is expected to be appointed manager for the European Championships. He will have to decide on a successor to John Terry, who was dismissed as England captain a week ago once his trial was put back until after the championships. The FA felt "there is something particular about the England football captain, it is different to how they're perceived on the continent" which prevented Terry retaining that position and the FA observing the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

For England's friendly against Holland at the end of the month, Stuart Pearce, who once racially abused Paul Ince on a football pitch and whose brother is a member of the BNP, will lead an England dressing room which reportedly couldn't face being captained by Terry while he faces racism allegations.

Yes, they still get irony.

The rest they don't seem to understand. "It is a magnificent job," Bernstein said on Friday, before muttering, "it's had its problems in the past and maybe in the future."

This was one way of putting it. Stuart Pearce, known as 'Psycho', is temporarily in charge of the madhouse. Then they will move for Redknapp. There were hundreds of people at Wembley last Thursday for the FA's press conference but there were times when they were addressing an audience of one. Not Redknapp, but his chairman and fierce negotiator Daniel Levy. The FA tried to pretend there was more than one contender. They needed to, otherwise there would be "a difficult negotiation position".

Damningly, for a country which has expressed its weariness about foreign managers in recent days, there is only one English candidate who seems capable.

"The national mood," Bernstein said on Thursday, "would like an English manager and it would be nice to reflect the national mood."

The national mood wanted Capello out and Capello reacted to the FA's challenge to the core principle of football management: the manager is solely responsible for matters concerning the team.

Those who said Capello had never been too concerned about the captaincy before missed the point. It was for him as manager to evaluate its importance, not David Bernstein, a man who clearly thinks he knows a bit about the game having once queried Manchester City's decision to sign Robbie Fowler while chairman of the club.

Behind the half-baked principles which triggered the latest crisis (Terry remains in the squad, his removal as captain an act of symbolism which has backfired) is a familiar English problem.

Somehow, the players are off the hook. Wayne Rooney, who was perhaps not just the worst English player but among the worst players at the 2010 World Cup, felt free to give his opinion on Capello's successor. He wanted Harry Redknapp. They all want Harry Redknapp.

Rio Ferdinand called for an English manager and asked that things would no longer be "lost in translation". Ferdinand, an anti-racism crusader, now fell back on lazy xenophobia for which there is more than zero tolerance.

They are ready to embrace Redknapp and be embraced by him. Their failure at the last tournament was put down to Capello's brutal methods and boredom. This summer, they will live the life of a boulevardier and Redknapp will put his arm around them.

On the day that the future England manager was cleared of tax evasion and the current one decided to quit because he felt the FA had interfered with the manager's right to make decisions on team matters, people were announcing on Twitter that the feelgood factor was back. It is a shame the football has to come along to spoil the fun.

Capello was a curious manager of England. He didn't believe in the cult of the personality but he believed in the cult of the manager. The manager had authority and the players listened. Those who had once demanded that humiliations be handed out to England's solipsistic players now wondered why he had to be so cruel.

He appeared to be utterly defeated by his players as well. He was accused last week of an inability to understand the psychology of the English player. In fact, he understood it all too well.

Having failed to discern any sign of collective intelligence in the England team, he decided to keep it very simple. It would be 4-4-2 and the big number nine (although in Emile Heskey's case, he could be described as the false big number nine) up front. Capello felt they could grasp nothing more than that and saw no point in trying to pretend otherwise.

They could tolerate Sven, who at least spent most of his time trying to sleep with their women and therefore could be said to see some merit in the country, more than Fabio, who could see none.

Most of the football problems are well known. Trevor Brooking told a story of an English underage side beating Spain recently and commented that if the English players had been wearing Spanish or German shirts, "you wouldn't have known we were English because we kept the ball so well".

The question will always be if these faults are simply because the players haven't been coached properly (or encouraged to think for themselves) or if it is a symptom of a greater cultural failing.

Why are there so few good English managers as well as intelligent English players? It must be more than a question of coaching.

But now they are talking about structures again. When the FA talk about planning for the future, they resemble a child taking a vow of silence. They are always starting ". . . now". This time, it will be different. They are following the Spanish model (although they haven't finished copying the French model yet) but whether they have the culture that allows the development of players with the intelligence of Xavi and Iniesta is questionable.

For the time being, they will fall back on old values. Stuart Pearce is the faithful retainer, Old Scrotum from Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. Pearce would be the wrong man at any time but he is certainly the wrong man at the wrong time. If he can survive the latest race storm, then Pearce will give a demonstration of futile passion when England play Holland at the end of the month and then they will go calling for Harry.

Like Sir Henry Rawlinson, the England job has never met a man it didn't mutilate.

Harry may make the players happy and the happiness might lead to glorious expression on the field.

There are some who talk about his fear of confrontation and in a dressing room of egos, he may need to banish that fear. It is also possible to envisage a squad that keeps changing as Harry's desire for new faces will no longer be tempered by a chairman failing to release funds. Instead he can summon anyone who takes his fancy.

Right now it is all good news. Wednesday was portrayed as Harry's greatest day. "He could have gone to prison in the morning and now he's almost gone to heaven," Martin Keown said when the news came through that Capello had quit.

It is a strange view of paradise. The endless waiting for agonising defeat, the pointless hours spent trying to educate recidivist players and the inevitable despair. If that is heaven then heaven can wait.

Perhaps a country with so little success on the field needs these purges. They offer moments of triumph at least as they persuade the man they want to take the job and celebrate another successful bout of head-hunting.

There is a giddiness as they prepare for Redknapp. Bernstein talked of the "phenomenon with new managers, a Martin O'Neill at Sunderland type of thing". With England, there are counterbalancing and more powerful phenomena.

Redknapp might be better off skipping the Euros and allowing the next cycle of expectation and despair to play out without him. If he takes the job before June, he will be asked, "Can we win it?" when all the evidence suggests that it is a very stupid question.

The press conference on Thursday lacked any of the frenzy normally associated with these occasions. There was no jeopardy as everybody knows the identity of the new manager, and no rage as everybody is happy about it.

The FA's job is to manage expectations. They can do this by telling the truth but few are interested in the truth. The FA's Adrian Bevington pointed out that England had won only four matches in European Championship finals outside England.

"We've got to stop bouncing in from one tournament to another and apologising for not getting past the quarter-finals. We've been past the quarter-finals three times in our history. What gives us the right to say were going there with the expectation to win tournaments?"

Perversely, failure seems only to have increased expectation. The England manager is paid more than any other international manager to surpass those expectations. When he doesn't, he is always the one to blame.

Capello's point of view on the removal of the captaincy from Terry was dismissed last week when it was, in fact, the starting point for any principled manager.

Giovanni Trapattoni understood. "The team is the manager's responsibility -- the political is the Football Association," he said on Friday. "Fabio understood the FA interfered in this job. And he said 'excuse me, I don't lose my credibility'."

One writer complained that Capello's £6m a year was "not enough to interest him greatly in the culture of the country whose national game he was hired to revive".

His lack of interest in the culture should have chimed with those at all levels of the English game. Capello was not hired to attend the Lucien Freud exhibition. He was hired because the unexamined lives of generations of English football men had produced a culture incapable of thinking for itself. Capello discovered that as footballers they could barely think at all.

The problem is not the nationality of the manager, the problem is the culture of the players.

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