Champions' League showdown: Capello: 'England is my dream'

Juventus coach Fabio Capello, whose side face Arsenal tonight, loves abstract art, discipline and cooking - but his greatest desire is to manage a national team
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The Independent Online

Fabio Capello has always had a thing about England. The Juventus coach, whose team face Arsenal in Turin tonight, has three championship medals from his days as a Juve midfielder in the 1970s. He boasts six Serie A titles as a coach, with three different teams, plusone La Liga title for good measure. He also has a Champions' League triumph on his coach's CV. The 4-0 thrashing his Milan side gave Johan Cruyff's Barcelona in May 1994 remains one of the most memorable nights in European football history.

Yet when asked to pick the highlight of his career, the 59-year-old goes back to 14 November 1973 - when his goal at Wembley gave Italy their first win against England on English soil.

Capello's stated reason for investing that moment with such significance is an odd one. Italian immigrants in England had for many years been classified as mere "waiters," he said, so the victory was his present to them.

Beneath the nationalist sentiment there lies another reason why Capello cherished leaving his mark at Wembley, something to do with his fascination for the way football is played in England. It is this deep regard for the English game which has recently prompted him to issue thinly veiled come-and-get-me pleas to the Football Association, despite having publicly committed himself to Juventus until 2009.

Last week he told L'espresso magazine: "When I quit coaching at club level I would like to continue with a national team. England is my dream, something which I have always had inside me."

Earlier this year, Capello appeared to be aiming further north than Wembley, saying that it would be a privilege to "one day coach a great team like Manchester United".

So what would England, or United, be getting if "one day" they opted for the Italian? They would certainly get a proven winner. Even elimination from the Champions' League tonight would not diminish his reputation too greatly, with Juventus on course to win Serie A by a record margin.

They would also get a complex man who always speaks his mind. A stern disciplinarian and devout Catholic with conservative political views, Capello recently upset a lot of Spaniards by saying that the legacy of the Fascist dictator General Franco was positive.

Capello is also a lover of abstract art ("it is always pushing to create a new language"), who likes to experiment in the kitchen with exotic recipes. Despite having coached abroad for only one season - in 1996-97, when he led Real Madrid to the title in La Liga - Capello is one of those Italians who thinks that things are more interesting and work better elsewhere (he explained his Franco remarks by saying that while Spain has a functioning bureaucracy, Italy is chaos).

His current interests include reading about China and the Far East, where he plans to travel when he retires. He also boasts of having virtually no friends in football: "I made it a rule early on in my career. I like my job but not all the things that go on around it."

Capello was born on 18 June 1946, in Pieris, a village of 1,200 people in the province of Gorizia, near the Italian border with what was then Yugoslavia. His childhood was indelibly marked by the war which had just ended. His father would tell the infant Fabio of how daddy had narrowly escaped death in a Nazi concentration camp.

In a time when European boundaries were being redrawn, the youngster lived in fear of the Italian border being shifted west and his family being forced to abandon their home. Football provided an escape and it was clearly in the Capello genes. His father played for the local Third Division side and an uncle played for Italy.

The two men provided the lessons which were to form the basis of his football career: "They taught me dedication, to always work hard with absolute stubbornness. Only hard work allows an athlete to make the most of his talents."

The teenage Capello moved 200 miles south to the city of Ferrara, where he made his Serie A debut at 18 for Spal. Three years later he was signed by Roma, with whom he won the Italian Cup in 1969. In a move that was to prefigure his most controversial decision as a coach many years later, Capello left Roma for Juventus, although, like any Italian player in the 1970s, he had little say in the matter. He won three league titles with Juventus before ending his playing career with two seasons at Milan.

As a player, Capello was an uncompromising midfielder who played 32 times for Italy, scoring eight goals. His single-mindedness helped him to overcome several career-threatening injuries, but he is quick to admit that, as a coach, he has enjoyed one piece of good fortune: he has only worked with great teams.

Capello's managerial breakthrough was not the result of years of grinding out results in the lower leagues but came courtesy of a gamble by the media tycoon and Milan president, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister - at least until next week's general election.

In 1991, when Berlusconi needed someone to replace the departing Arrigo Sacchi he opted for Capello, despite Capello's lack of experience. While Sacchi had been leading Milan to a league title and two European Cups in the previous four seasons, Capello was coaching Milan's youth teams. Capello repaid Berlusconi with four league titles in the next five seasons and that Champions' League night in Athens.

The one mistake Capello has made in his career was going back to a struggling Milan in 1997 after his success in Madrid. He failed to halt the slide and left the club after one season. After a year out of the game, he returned in 1999 as Roma coach and led the team to the Serie A title in his second season in charge. With Roma's finances in a mess, he saw the writing on the wall and in 2004 jumped ship to Juventus, where he won the title in his first season.

Capello's success as a coach is usually attributed to his ability to transfer his winning mentality to his players. Tactically, he is a pragmatist with a fondness for 4-4-2 but, like most top coaches, he builds the tactics around the players. He considers himself "authoritarian and paternal" in his dealings with players and has never been afraid of putting stars in their place if he feels their standards are slipping.

Yet he has also helped some notoriously difficult young players, like Roma's Francesco Totti and Antonio Cassano, now with Real Madrid, to fulfil their potential.

The signs are that after two years in Turin, the wanderlust is already nagging away at Capello. Ahead of tonight's game against Arsenal, Capello said that he "liked the spirit of the English game, something that I don't like at all about Italian football".

If the FA chief executive, Brian Barwick, and Man United's owners, the Glazers, do not take the hint, there will be no shortage of suitors elsewhere.

God or Devil? What they say about Capello

* To me, Fabio Capello is God. Former England captain Tony Adams.

* Capello dealt with me in a way that not even I can [understand], and made me a great player. He was like a father to me. Former Roma striker Antonio Cassano, now at Real Madrid.

* Fabio Capello is a great trainer, who has won things everywhere, but he has the habit to always go with the same group of players. He never makes a change, not even when they're struggling. Alessio Tacchinardi, defensive midfielder who played under Capello at Juventus.

* Losing Capello [as coach] simply does not exist. Antonio Giraudo, the chief executive officer at Juventus.

* I would never play for Capello again. He's not a true person. For me, the type of man you are is far more important than the coach you are. The Italy striker Francesco Totti, who won the Serie A title under Capello at Roma, one of the three sides he has coached to the scudetto.

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