Capello's team turn tables on press pack

Reporters traded ill-fitting suits for England tracksuits yesterday. Sam Wallace insists he acquitted himself, despite one glaring miss

Massimo Neri is the tall, trim, middle-aged man with the grey hair whose responsibility on Fabio Capello's staff is to prepare the England players at the start of training and in that crucial last hour before games.

He is the typical Italian fitness nut whom you encounter in Italy; the type who overtake you on their bike as you coax the rental car up a particularly steep hill. His job is to keep Capello's elite athletes in tip-top physical condition.

Yesterday Massimo had an altogether different proposition: train a group of English newspaper reporters for an hour without any of us requiring the services of the St John Ambulance.

The build-up to England matches can tend toward the adversarial at times, when the press corps descends on the plush team base in Hertfordshire for our chance to interrogate the inmates of The Grove hotel. Today will be no different when Capello talks us through his plans for his last season as England manager, tomorrow's game against the Netherlands and the pitfalls of Euro 2012 qualification over the next three months.

But yesterday was time for a brief pause in the usual routine. Yesterday the Football Association, with their accomplices the sponsors Vauxhall, decided to take us out of our comfort zone. In short, subject us to Neri's usual team preparation, his stretching routines, shuttle runs and two-touch passing exercises. Once the FA had found some clean kit and a spare pitch, we were all theirs for an hour – even if it at times it felt a lot longer.

Football reporters belong on the side of the pitch looking on, in ill-fitting suits with notepads and mobile phones. Put us in an Umbro tracksuit top and we look, well, just wrong: like Richard Madeley in that Ali G costume. But from a distance, a considerable distance, we must have looked like any other team of international superstars. Two or three people came over from the other side of The Grove's golf course to take pictures and the disappointment on their faces when they realised that this was not Wayne Rooney, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand was quite painful to behold.

Capello's back-room staff have spent the three years and eight months that their boss has been in charge of the England team very much out of the spotlight. Like Capello they too will leave next summer, having worked at the sharp end of international football without any public profile. That is the Capello way: he takes the good and the bad, but he, and only he, is the public face of the operation.

His No 2 and general manager Franco Baldini is the man you see standing beside Capello on the touchline before games. He is Capello's point man, whom the players speak to around the training camp while the manager keeps more of a distance on pastoral matters. It is Baldini who does much of the scouting. And it is Baldini who interposes himself when there are rows, such as Terry's contretemps in South Africa.

Also, Baldini can play a bit – so when it came to the match at the end of the training session I wanted to make sure that he was on my side.

Baldini was a former Italy Under-21 international, who played at Bari and Bologna, and once qualification is complete in October he will go to Roma to become the director of football, the club that is closest to his heart. He is 50 years old but still has the Roberto Baggio-style swagger and the coiffured grey hair. Franco insisted that he was to play up front and no one was about to argue.

Second priority: a good goalkeeper. They do not come much better than Capello's goalkeeping coach, Franco Tancredi, who played in goal for Roma against Liverpool in the European Cup final in 1984 and went to the 1986 World Cup finals as the No 2 to Giovanni Galli. Tancredi won 12 caps for his country in one of Italian football's best decades. At 56, he can still fling himself around.

I had hoped to lure Italo Galbiati out of retirement, even though at 73 he is even older than Capello. You will see him on the pitch tomorrow talking to the players and lightening the mood. Capello regards him highly, so much so that he has worked with him at Milan, Roma and Real Madrid. Galbiati was a player at Internazionale during the Helenio Herrera era in the 1960s, so no one was better placed to keep it tight at the back and grind out a result.

But, despite his wealth of experience, Galbiati said that his advancing years meant he would referee and it is hard to argue with a man who wears Aviator shades to conduct a training session. On the right person they convey a certain gravitas.

With Christian Lattanzio, the team psychologist whose day job is at Manchester City and can play a bit himself, we had a decent team. The only problem was the rest of the players: us reporters. At least the opposition had a similar handicap.

In the end we settled for a direct approach. Ping it up to Baldini and feed off the knockdowns. Capello interrupted his round of golf at The Grove to come over and cast his eye over the talent. Given that this is an England manager who has never attended a Championship game in his time in the job, let alone a Sunday park match, I imagine it was something of a culture shock.

"Pretty bad standard, eh, Fabio?" I ventured at half-time. "Yes, bad football," he replied breezily. For all the ups and downs, one thing we have come to appreciate is that Capello is nothing if not a straight talker when it comes to the beautiful game.

How did the match go? Apart from the moment Baldini put the ball on a plate for me and I missed the target from seven yards, pretty well I think. We left the pitch with a bit of an insight into the preparation methods of Capello's back-room staff and Capello's back-room staff went back to their hotel rooms safe in the knowledge that – whatever we write – we will certainly never play the game as well as them.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?