Capello goes into reverse over WAGs

England coach now says he is prepared to invite wives and girlfriends to World Cup in order to 'create great spirit' within squad
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Fabio Capello has revealed that he is willing to take a softer line with "WAG culture" in the interests of nurturing a team spirit that can help England succeed in the World Cup. The decision came after discussing what it takes to win the tournament with his compatriot and old rival Marcello Lippi, who led Italy to the cup four years ago.

The England coach's reluctance to tolerate the WAG sideshow that surrounded England in Baden-Baden four years ago has led to him being characterised as a coach who rules with a rod of iron – but Capello's conversations with Lippi, regarded by many as the antithesis of the England manager because of his far closer relationship with players, have reinforced his appreciation of the value of downtime with families between matches.

"The spirit of the group is really important. With Lippi we talked about Italy when they won last time, when the players had free days the players and their families stayed together," Capello said. "After each game they had a barbeque. It created a great spirit of the group. These are the little differences that can sometimes make the difference when it comes to winning. The managers need to understand what is best."

Capello's players have taken his lack of enthusiasm for the WAGs to heart, with Steven Gerrard declaring in March that "my wife won't be there, not unless we get to the semis or the final. She's got two kids who'll be in school and it's a long way away."

But Capello told a private forum, organised by the Leaders in Performance organisation, that he considers the team spirit reinforced outside of the playing arena to be one of the most important ingredients for success. In an observation which perhaps casts some light on his decision to remove John Terry from the captaincy so rapidly, he also reflected on the importance of breaking down factionalism.

"When I went to Real Madrid [as coach, in 2006] they had not won anything for three years, which is strange for a club the size of Real Madrid," he said. "Inside the dressing room there were three different teams – a South American group, Spanish group and the others. I had to work really hard to break these different groups down and bring everyone together. I had to make strong decisions and make sure there was a spirit within the team – when the group found the spirit of the shirt they won. Spirit is one of the most important things for a team. You need to have a good spirit to win."

Lippi is not the only coach Capello has turned to in recent weeks for a sense of how a World Cup tournament actually feels. He has spoken to Luis Aragones, who delivered Spain their first trophy in 44 years at the 2008 European Championship (though they were vanquished by France in the first knockout round in 2006) and to Luiz Felipe Scolari, victorious with Brazil in 2002, though it is the conversation with his compatriot which is most intriguing.

The two men have been rivals on their journey into the pantheon of great Italian coaches and are viewed by many in Italy as antithetical in their approach to management, with Capello more inclined to keep a professional distance from his players. Asked about Capello's management style for a biography of the England manager, Lippi said: "You have to do what fits your personality. The manager doesn't necessarily need to be a friend. What matters is he be a guide." The spirit of bonhomie Lippi cultivated in 2006 clearly worked, though.

Another revealing insight into Capello's willingness to be fluid on certain issues comes in an observation that penalty shoot-outs, which put England out of the 2006 tournament, cannot be entirely prepared for and that an advance list of the five takers might need to be ditched if those on the list look exhausted or short on confidence. "We always practise with the penalties," Capello said. "The problem is that during training the goal seems wide and the goalkeeper seems little; during the actual game the keeper seems bigger and the goals seem smaller. The hardest thing to manage is the pressure. It's important to train, you need to practise so they have confidence – but sometimes when it's time to decide who will take the penalties you need to change because players are tired, you need players with confidence who want to take them. I know who will take the good penalties, but sometimes at the final moment you have to change."

But in a reminder of his belief that a tough individual is needed to manage the side, Capello said: "Leadership is vital, you can't buy it. You need to have it to be successful. The players will follow a strong leader, you need to be able to convince the players of your methods and ideas at all times and you can only do this by being a good leader."