James Lawton: Blame for this awful mess lies squarely at the door of Capello


Unusually for Fabio Capello, a man who owns some highly valued pieces of art but is not given to too many flights of poetic fancy, he once said that he had a dream. It was right at the start of his England reign and it was that he would lead his team into the final of the World Cup in Johannesburg.

That dream was officially registered as a nightmare when England folded their tents on the high veld after eviscerating defeat by a young German team in Bloemfontein. But even then some of us gave him a chance of slugging his way back to a kind of redemption.

We blamed mostly the culture of English football and the absolute inability of its best players to focus properly on the challenge of competing seriously in the great tournament.

Capello, albeit in halting English, said he had learnt some hard lessons and they would be remembered and acted upon in the last two years of his contract. He deflected questions about his £6m salary and whether he had provided value for money.

He said we shouldn't think of the scale of his rewards rather than the quality of the man and he would fight to put certain things right.

Things, you imagined, like new levels of commitment, an acceptance that there had to be much strengthening at the broken places, even something as basic as communication. Yes, he would help to put in place such improvements.

There was a chill wind blowing across the veld when he made that resolve but you just couldn't have guessed how cold it would become.

We knew well enough yesterday when David Bernstein, the chairman of the Football Association, consigned the Capello years to all those others wasted since the time of Sir Alf Ramsey's success in the 1966 World Cup. He didn't really answer the questions about whether Capello had walked or been pushed, but the lack of clarity on this specific point hardly concealed a broader truth. Capello had had enough of the English football life, its relentless ability to track down and embrace points of moral or tactical confusion, and when he offered his resignation to Bernstein after an hour of "cooling off" neither of them found a pressing enough reason to step back from the brink.

It left just one unsettled issue on the order of business, one pervading question in the wake of the FA board's decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy, without consulting Capello, and the manager's angrily defiant interview with Italian television. The question is where we place most surely the blame for such a catastrophe a few months before the major tournament from which Capello said he would wrestle some kind of legacy from what he once described as the "beautiful dream".

It is impossible, even from the perspective of someone who enthusiastically applauded his appointment, seeing it as an authentic step into genuine competitive standards with a coach of impeccable credentials, not to place the burden of blame at Capello's door.

He had a job to finish, however bedevilled by some problems unique to English football, and if he was angered by the FA's failure to consult him before they moved on the Terry captaincy, he could hardly claim a history of being slighted.

Nor was it true that the details of his contract had been violated. He told Italians that he was offended by his employer's refusal to recognise the principle of innocent until proved guilty, which was fine as far as it went.

What he might have added is that the FA had a right to decide on an issue which wasn't, essentially, about the rights of selection but the appropriateness of having a captain awaiting trial on a racism charge that had already deeply divided key players certain to be selected for the European Championship.

By making a stand on his right to retain a captain he had once dismissed summarily because of what he deemed ill-advised behaviour, and at the same time declared the supreme value of an undivided team operating free of distraction, Capello at the very least left his own consistency in question.