Fabio Capello: 'We need to play like a club'

England manager says his team must kindle the spirit that Croatia showed against Germany if they are to defeat their nemesis

No fear. It's the phrase that jumps out as Fabio Capello, in his stumbling but rapidly improving English, explains what he expects of his England team. Leaning back, relaxed and smiling in a lakeside hotel just a few miles outside Klagenfurt in southern Austria the morning after he had watched Croatia defeat Germany in Euro 2008, Capello is laying down a blueprint. It is, he believes, what will ensure England never again miss out on a major tournament.

Capello has the personnel – he refreshingly dismisses the notion that a Premier League top-heavy with foreign talent does not produce enough skilled Englishmen, and says he needs no more than 14 top-quality players – but now needs to develop the characters. It will, he promises, all come together in just nine weeks' time when England play the Czech Republic in their final friendly match beforethe World Cup qualification campaign gets under way.

"That is what we have been working towards," Capello says. "It will be a very important game before qualification begins. We play at Wembley and in this game I hope the players play like a team with great confidence. And no fear. That is very important. We are getting better with each game and, in August, there will be no problem physically. Everyone will be fresh and not tired so I expect to see big progress."

What Don Fabio expects, he clearly gets. His strategy is clear. England go into September with a double-header – in Andorra, an easy warm-up, and then their old nemesis Croatia in Zagreb. Capello clearly wants to hit the Croatians early and exploit the possible hangover from Euro 2008 and maybe the loss of their talismanic coach, Slaven Bilic.

Capello was impressed by Bilic's team in the 2-1 victory on Thursday. It was certainly more emphatic than their win against Austria. "I have seen two Croatias," Capello explains. "I think the Croatia that we meet in Zagreb will be the same Croatia that played against Germany because the spirit of Croatia, not just Croatia but other teams when they play against a top team, a big team, means they play better."

Despite their absence from this tournament, Capello clearly regards England as a "big team". The failure to qualify gives him a chance to implement what he wants and expects. At first he was disappointed with the players' technical ability but he has reassessed his opinion. Now his main concerns, beyond the need for a right-back and a striker, are "spirit" and "character".

"We need to find the same spirit," he says of Croatia's special ingredient. "I am searching for this characteristic. All the players do play 100 per cent but they need to as a group, not individuals, and that is the most important characteristic of Croatia. We must try and get that spirit also. That will happen through my experience and the experience of the players also." Given his track record, he should not be doubted. "We need to play like a club. We are a very important football nation and we have to play to win. We have some impor-tant players, players who are leaders, and that is important for every team and every club. But they need to be leaders on the pitch, not in the newspapers."

Which is an intriguing comment for the Italian to make. Was he referring to the players who like their media profile – or the media who like to profile the players? Despite being urged to, he was not going to expand upon it. Instead he preferred to talk about the "leaders" he has managed in the past. "At AC Milan there was Baresi, Maldini, Rijkaard and Ancelotti. At Roma there was Aldair and Batistuta, and Emerson was very powerful. At Madrid, Hierro, Raul." Quite a roll call. But what about in the England dressing room, who is the leader there? "No," he says. "When I am not the England manager, then you will know."

Inevitably it raises the issue of captaincy. Initially Capello had four candidates in mind – Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Gareth Barry. Gerrard and Barry appear to have been discounted because they are too quiet, which leaves the two central defenders. David Beckham, were he playing in Europe rather than the US, would have been regarded by Capello as the strongest option.

He is slightly bemused by our obsession about who wears the armband. "In other countries, it's normal that the player with the most caps is the captain," Capello says. "But in England it's different, and that's nice. It's interesting. I always say the captain is not just there to swap the pennants before the start of the game. You have to be a leader on the pitch. Off the pitch everyone leads their lives, but all the players need to know the rules and it's important to behave. Everyone makes mistakes but it depends on the kind of mistakes you make. It's impossible to be perfect. Even for the Pope."

Such a comment, made with a laugh, shows how much he is enjoying his job – just as well, when the Football Association are paying him £6 million a year – but he claims to like the "pressure" and now understands "what it's like to be a national team manager". It's why he rejects the hand-wringing and excuses over the number of English players. "When I was a club manager we had 14 players only who were very good," he says. "And I won. It's very important that you have players of the right level. There are 35 per cent of players in the Premier League who are English but if enough of them are of a high level, it's enough."

He might not have been the England manager if a certain Luiz Felipe Scolari had accepted the FA's overtures prior to the last World Cup. But Capello feels it's a case of his gain and Big Phil's loss. "I'm happy," he says. "Thank you Scolari." They know each other well and Capello thinks the latter will succeed at Chelsea. "It's interesting to see a Brazilian manager in the English League. He will have his ideas and style." Just like Capello.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks