He was an aging international midfielder in his 30s whose legs had seen better days and a loyal servant of his country who played for Milan. And his inclusion in the squad for what would surely be his last World Cup finals was a touch-and-go affair.
Fabio Capello's situation in 1978 was eerily similar to that of David Beckham now, although if the latter wants any sympathy come next May then he can forget it. Capello, then approaching his 32nd birthday in 1978, was left out of the Italy squad by manager Enzo Bearzot in favour of the Fiorentina star Giancarlo Antognoni who would go on to be part of the squad that won the World Cup in Spain four years later.
Not that Capello is bitter. He shrugged yesterday as he recalled the manner in which he found out he had been left out of the squad in 1978. "I saw it announced on television," he said and when asked whether he would deliver the news to his players the same way it looked like the issue had never occurred to him. "I don't know yet," he said, "good question."
Less than 24 hours after his team destroyed Croatia 5-1 at Wembley to qualify for the World Cup finals with two qualifying games to spare, Capello was giving his first insight into what the next nine months will be like. No Wags in South Africa, a friendly against Brazil in Qatar in November and tough opposition in the build-up, possibly even a game against Italy.
Capello has been to one World Cup finals in his career, in 1974, and that too has its similarities with England's progress this time around. Capello will be hoping that history will not repeat itself in June. Italy went to the 1974 tournament in Germany as one of the favourites having won eight and drawn two of their previous 10 games. Then a row over the squad numbers assigned by coach Ferruccio Valcareggi undermined the camp.
Having not conceded in 12 matches, Italy went behind to Haiti in the first group match before winning. They drew with Argentina and lost to Poland – a game in which Capello scored – and went home after the first round. What went wrong? "You have to ask the manager of the team," said Capello with a hint of bitterness. Unfortunately that will not be possible given Valcareggi passed away in 2005.
Capello made the surprising disclosure yesterday that not only does he have an open-door policy of management but that three players have actually come to see him to ask why they were not in the team. "Every time I have said 'My door is open, you can come into my office'. I have spoken with three players who asked me 'Why am I not playing?' They asked me and I explained why."
He did not reveal the identities of the brave three but there are many dilemmas facing the England manager between now and when he names his squad in May. Only around 12 of his current squad could be described as certainties for the World Cup finals and there are long-term injury doubts concerning the likes of Owen Hargreaves, Stewart Downing, Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King, who is still yet to feature in a Capello England team.
At the last World Cup, Sven Goran Eriksson picked Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney , both of whom had only just recovered from serious injury. Capello believes that Hargreaves will be fit in two months' time. "We have to make sure we choose the best player and the fittest players," he said. "They need to be fit, really fit. We will have 23 players and in the past England have taken injured players."
The game against Brazil in Qatar on 14 November is the reciprocal part of the contract that saw Brazil come to Wembley in June 2007 for the new stadium's first senior international. The FA have to honour the deal but told Capello that they would postpone the game if he did not feel the opposition or the location was appropriate. He said that it was crucial England tested themselves against the "important national teams to understand the level we have reached."
"They [England] are really good players, they have recovered their confidence," he said. "They play the same for the club as for the national team. I respect the players, the players respect me. This is very important. The days we stay together sometimes I speak to them individually. It's my job, it's my system."Reuse content