James Lawton: Where's old Fabio, the one of solid judgement?


Those of us who celebrated so enthusiastically the appointment of Fabio Capello had one moment of sadly fleeting vindication. It came in Zagreb when it was as though the authority and discipline and flair of England, against the Croatian team that had done so much to expose the ineptitude that preceded the Italian's appointment, was nothing so much as a confirmation of new standards, new coherence.

Damn us, then, for being too easily disarmed. Look at England a little more than three years on and what do we see? It is a state of confusion more deeply embedded than at any point since the achievements of Sir Alf Ramsey's England first began to gather dust.

The harsh spotlight is directed at the latest fiasco engulfing John Terry but the chaos surrounding the captain deposed for a second time touches everyone involved.

Where do we distribute the blame?

Simply take your choice from the FA rulers who got only half the job done when they removed the armband, to, unfortunately, the coach who was supposed to usher in – at £6m a year – a return to the most basic professional values. That he should indicate his unhappiness at the decision of his bosses to the Italian media rather than to the high command is more than a mere breakdown in etiquette.

It is evidence, if any more was needed, that the direction of the national team has become, and yet again at the approach of a major tournament, nothing less than dysfunctional.

It is doubly dispiriting that the latest example has been provided by the man who once suggested himself as an ultimately safe pair of hands. Yes, he was a little arrogant perhaps, certainly not a master of the English language, but also someone of massive achievement and good reason to believe in the solidity of his own judgement.

No, he wouldn't pander to the remnants of that mythic "golden generation". He would follow his instincts, the ones that had served him so well down the years of a magnificent career, and hardly before anyone had chance to reach for the Twitter button Rio Ferdinand was announcing how much the players appreciated the new regime of discipline.

They accepted that it was time, finally, to toe a line. Capello's impact was so notable that 1966 hero Sir Bobby Charlton saw distinct touches of his old mentor Ramsey.

"When he talks to the players," said Sir Bobby, "I get the impression that the players are listening. It is a most encouraging development."

That verdict, like so many others, is now poignant to recall. Especially, this is, when you remember Capello's confession in Cape Town after the ineffably derelict World Cup performance against Algeria. "I didn't recognise my team," said the coach.

Now when Capello asserts that "Terry is my captain", and dismisses, apparently, the consensus that the player's presence is at the very least an inappropriate distraction as he awaits the outcome of his trial for alleged racist abuse, the idea of a squad and coaching staff sharing a single focus seems ever more fanciful.

It is staggering enough that Capello chooses to heap so much kindling on the Terry fire but even more disconcerting is the fact that there appears to have been no consultation between the FA and its head coach while something so plainly vital to the equilibrium of the team was being discussed.

We don't want administration by committee – that can never have been the purpose of appointing one of the most powerful figures in the game – but nor can such huge divisions have been in mind.

It may be redundant to dwell now on the virtues that seemed so integral to Capello's image – qualities surely crowned by the clearest idea of who he was and what he represented – but certainly it was impossible to imagine that he could move so rapidly from one position to another in the case of Terry.

According to the coach, one year the player had made himself utterly expendable as a captain. Now he is an issue which completely overshadows all else on the approach to the European Championship.

It is maybe not the style of a man who once had a reputation for unwavering conviction, at least one to be compared with that of the only England coach to win the World Cup. It is an old parallel but one maybe not without some validity.

The example that comes to mind concerns the time when Ramsey, in mid-World Cup, was summoned to FA headquarters to be told that it would be in "everyone's interests" if Nobby Stiles was dropped from the team following an horrendous tackle on the French player Jacky Simon.

Ramsey told the FA elders: "Well, gentleman, most certainly Nobby Stiles can be thrown off the team but I must tell you I see him as a very important player for England, who has done very well for the team since first selected and that if he goes, so do I. You will be looking for a new manager."

Before this exchange, Ramsey had spoken with Stiles and been assured that the tackle, however bad it looked, was the result of critical mis-timing rather than malice. Ramsey then said: "You're playing tomorrow."

The game was against Argentina in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, and we all know the end of that story.

Unfortunately, the outcome of the current one is anyone's guess. It would help if the FA spoke to its manager – and he was a little easier to recognise as the man some of us once knew as Fabio Capello.