Capello's back-room team turns the tables on England's press pack

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The Independent Online

Massimo Neri is the tall, trim, middle-aged man with the grey hair whose responsibility on Fabio Capello's staff is to prepare the England players at the start of training and in that crucial last hour before games. His job is to keep Capello's elite athletes in tip-top physical condition.

Yesterday Massimo had a different proposition: train a group of English newspaper reporters for an hour without any of us requiring the services of the St John Ambulance.

The build-up to England matches can tend toward the adversarial at times and today will be no different when Capello talks us through his plans for his last season as England manager, tomorrow's game against the Netherlands and the pitfalls of Euro 2012 qualification.

But yesterday was time for a brief pause in the usual routine. Yesterday the Football Association, with their accomplices the sponsors Vauxhall, decided to take us out of our comfort zone. In short, subject us to Neri's usual team preparation.

Football reporters belong on the side of the pitch looking on, in ill-fitting suits with notepads and mobile phones. Put us in an Umbro tracksuit top and we look, well, just wrong: like Richard Madeley in that Ali G costume. But from a distance, a considerable distance, we must have looked like any other team of international superstars. Two or three people came over from the other side of The Grove's golf course to take pictures and the disappointment on their faces when they realised that this was not Wayne Rooney, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand was quite painful to behold.

Capello's back-room staff have spent the last three years and eight months very much out of the spotlight. That is the Capello way: he takes the good and the bad, but only he is the public face of the operation.

No 2 and general manager Franco Baldini is Capello's point man, whom the players speak to around the training camp. It is Baldini who does much of the scouting. And it is Baldini who interposes himself when there are rows.

Also, Baldini can play a bit – so when it came to the match at the end of the training session I wanted to make sure that he was on my side.

Baldini was a former Italy Under-21 international and once qualification is complete in October he will go to Roma to become the director of football. He is 50 years old but still has the Roberto Baggio-style swagger. Franco said he was to play up front and no one was about to argue.

Second priority: a good goalkeeper. They do not come much better than Capello's goalkeeping coach, Franco Tancredi, who played in goal for Roma against Liverpool in the European Cup final in 1984. At 56, he can still fling himself around.

I had hoped to lure Italo Galbiati, 73, out of retirement. You will see him talking to the players and lightening the mood. Capello regards him highly, so much so that he has worked with him at Milan, Roma and Real Madrid. Galbiati was a player at Internazionale, but, despite his wealth of experience, he said that his advancing years meant he would referee.

With Christian Lattanzio, the team psychologist who can play a bit himself, we had a decent team. The only problem was the rest of the players: us reporters.

In the end we settled for a direct approach. Ping it up to Baldini and feed off the knockdowns. Capello interrupted his round of golf to cast his eye over the talent.

"Pretty bad standard, eh, Fabio?" I ventured at half-time. "Yes, bad football," he replied breezily. One thing we have come to appreciate is that Capello is nothing if not a straight talker.

How did the match go? Apart from the moment Baldini put the ball on a plate for me and I missed the target from seven yards, pretty well I think. We left with a bit of an insight into the preparation methods of Capello's back-room staff and Capello's back-room staff went back to their hotel rooms safe in the knowledge that we will certainly never play the game as well as them.

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