When Fabio Capello spotted photographers trailing him during his holiday with his wife, Laura, in southern Italy last week, the England football manager assumed he knew just what to do – he contacted the Football Association so that it could alert the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), the newspaper industry watchdog, to stop the photographs being printed.
The PCC sent out a circular to all editors saying that Capello, 63, was "unhappy" that photographers had been pursuing him and would consider the publication of any images of him and his wife to be a "breach of their privacy". The News of the World decided otherwise, running seven shots showing the Capellos enjoying a mud bath on a beach and headlining the story "It's Fabio Cr*pello".
The story caused shock at the FA's London headquarters. The sophisticated Italian coach's indulgence in a spot of pelotherapy was crudely mocked by the newspaper, with a speech bubble quoting him as saying to his wife: "When I said 'Let's get dirty' this isn't quite what I had in mind." But more than that, the publication of the images indicated a breakdown in a system that had hitherto worked very well.
Since his appointment as England manager in January 2008, Capello has found himself the unwilling quarry of paparazzi and yet, through the intervention of the PCC, has managed to kill the market for the pictures by reminding editors that such an intrusion of his privacy might amount to a breach of the PCC's code of conduct. The policy appeared to be working perfectly, helping Capello to concentrate on managing a team that has qualified for next summer's World Cup in South Africa without dropping a single point.
So when the News of the World's story appeared on Sunday, with a plug for "more amazing Fabio photos" on the paper's website, the FA immediately complained to the PCC which contacted the paper's editor, Colin Myler, for an explanation. The pictures were later removed from the website.
The FA then wrote to newspapers and broadcasters to "formally request all other media do not use these photographs and respect the Capellos' right to privacy set out by the PCC". It pointed out that: "Fabio Capello and the FA could not have been clearer from the moment he commenced his role in January 2008 that he wants to enjoy a professional working relationship with the media, but he considers his private life and his family private."
Yesterday, the Daily Mail printed the story on page three, using two of the photographs published by the News of the World plus a third showing Mrs Capello in a mud pack stepping from a hot thermal lake. Alongside the main image of the muddied England manager in his swimming trunks was the headline: "Ooze a pretty boy then? Fabio takes a mudbath."
Yesterday, the PCC was in talks with the newspaper groups responsible, News International and Associated Newspapers, amid concerns that the relationship between Capello and the media has been badly damaged.
Sven Goran Eriksson's reign as England manager was characterised by lurid coverage of his private life ( some would argue that Eriksson brought this upon himself) and the Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari ruled himself out of the job in 2006 on the grounds that as soon as he was linked with the post the British media made his life impossible.
"I don't want this situation involving England because in two days during which I was not coach ... my life was invaded. My privacy was totally under siege," he complained.
Capello is especially protective of his wife, who has no desire to be a public figure. He was again in the spotlight yesterday as a guest at a memorial service for one of his predecessors, Sir Bobby Robson. Capello has diligently given pre- and post-match press conferences to newspapers, radio and television for every game during his English reign but has declined to give exclusive interviews for personal gain.
"Fabio Capello is one of the world's most experienced managers and is used to dealing with all manner of issues. He will handle this," said an FA source yesterday. "But that doesn't mean he's accepting it."
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*In 2001, the BBC newsreader Anna Ford was photographed in her swimsuit while on holiday in Majorca. Her complaint was rejected by the PCC as the beach was a public place.
*Also in 2001, OK! magazine was censured for publishing pictures of the eight-year-old daughter of author JK Rowling wearing a bikini on holiday on a beach in Mauritius.
*Prime Minister Gordon Brown took his wife and two sons on holiday to the Lake District this year and requested that the media not photograph his children.
*Simon Cowell's villa in the paparazzi mecca of Barbados was specially designed to be secluded from long-range snappers.