So is he a dud after all? That is the question England's horrified fans are asking about manager Fabio Capello after the national side's feeble draw against Algeria in the World Cup, a result that leaves the team needing a decent result in the last group game if it is to avoid a humiliating homecoming. If he is a dud, he's the unlikeliest dud in history, having won the Italian championship seven times, the Spanish league twice and the European Cup once.
What better pedigree could a man, a lifelong Anglophile, have to coach a traditionally underachieving English team? And, for our part, we were delighted. Best of all Don Fabio was Italian. Having acquired the cappuccino-drinking habit, now we had the set. And he was a serious, not-that-charming Italian, who understood virtue, honour and underperforming. Football was for winning, not enjoying.
But it has all gone wrong. Oh, it started OK. Frank Lampard described him as "a fantastic manager". Fab didn't say much, mostly because he didn't have the language. He helped us to qualify for the World Cup. He went on playing Beckham, who was past his best, but we didn't mind as long as we were winning. When he showed decisiveness in binning John Terry as captain, we flapped our paws together in admiration.
But we'd all missed something. As a friend of his says, the press has been "thoroughly sycophantic" towards him. He hadn't chosen his goalkeeper – a schoolboy error, literally. He hadn't sorted out the midfield. He persisted with an unsuccessful Aston Villa centre forward. And he signed up with an online gambling firm to produce the Capello index, a ranking of each England player's performance. Robert Green can count himself lucky.
The culmination of this was Friday's shambles, a performance well below the rain-sodden defeat against Croatia that did for Steve McClaren.
So did we get him all wrong? When speaking Italian, he has a ready wit. He can be laconic and deadpan, a species of humour that calls for complete mastery of the language, something his press conferences obviously lack.
Again, in the qualifying rounds, this doesn't seem to have mattered. After England get-togethers, the players disperse and tensions are diffused. But in South Africa, maybe it has all got a bit claustrophobic. What was remarkable about Friday's game was the lack of fight. In the first game against the USA, the commitment was there, if not the finesse; against Algeria even Wayne Rooney looked short of the devilry that drives him.
Alex Ferguson is fiercely strict with his players, but ultimately he is loved by them. On Friday, you had no sense of Capello having imbued that run-through-the-wall-for-the-gaffer spirit. Quite the opposite, judging by David James. First he said: "I found out [that he was playing] five minutes before we got on the bus. Usual standard."
Going WAGless to a far country with a martinet with hints of obsessive-compulsive disorder must be ghastly. When Capello was appointed, Germaine Greer wrote in The Independent on Sunday: "Capello is supposed to be an Anglophile, which probably means that he misunderstands the English as thoroughly as they misunderstand the Italians. Capello looks like the kind of Italian man who takes out a clean handkerchief and dusts a seat before he sits on it. A man who condemns men who wear socks so short that bits of bare leg can be seen when they cross their legs, as Capello has done, is a fusspot rather than a dictator."
There is far more to Capello than we know – but does he sound like the sort of man a gang of red-blooded Brits would run through the wall for?Reuse content