England's beleaguered football coach Fabio Capello was back in the line of fire yesterday after an attack on his laboured attempts to speak English.
The man dubbed "Flop Fabio" after the England team's lousy showing in the World Cup, which saw them limp home after a 4-1 drubbing from an inspired German side, was the target of criticism from the ex-England captain Gary Lineker for his limited grasp of English. "He said when he got the job he would get his English up to speed. It hasn't happened," said the mild-mannered Lineker, who prides himself on his ability to speak Spanish. "Either he is not trying very hard or his English teacher is useless."
Even Capello's fellow countrymen joined in. Aldo Zilli, the Italian celebrity chef, called Capello's grasp of English a "disaster". He added: "Capello, with the money he has and the people he hangs around with, should speak English perfectly. I think it's a disaster that he is running a team for the country – the language barrier has such a huge impact."
Zilli, who barely has an Italian accent, said he wouldn't even give Capello a job cleaning tables, let alone coaching a national football team. "If you can't speak to people like Wayne Rooney, then you're not going to be able to get them to perform for you. I wouldn't employ someone in my restaurant who speaks as badly as he does. It's embarrassing, as an Italian, seeing someone in the public eye who can't speak English.
"English is a world language – you have to speak it. Capello has plenty of time between matches to get a private tutor. He needs to do it now before it's too late – though some people would say it was already too late for England."
The fresh criticisms of Capello's linguistic abilities come on top of recent complaints about his formations and the way he sacked David Beckham – publicly, on air, without telling him first.
Capello's friends leapt to his defence, comparing the condemnation of his command of English to the lambasting the coach used to get for his loyalty to Beckham. One said: "This is the same story as about Beckham. There were criticisms about David for two years because he was still being selected. There's nothing the England set-up can do that won't upset the critics. Capello was getting positive press when we were getting good results. Yet his English was worse when England were getting good results. At the very least his English is good enough, and it was only recently that everyone was celebrating him as the 'great manager Fabio Capello'."
Gabriele Marcotti, who wrote Capello: Portrait of a Winner, an unauthorised biography of the England boss, added his defence of the coach. "His English was probably worse before the World Cup, but it didn't seem to matter then. There is also a distinction to be made about the way he speaks to the players on the training pitch, where I think he is quite intelligible to them. People also need to bear in mind that this is a man who is 64 years old. I think there is also a distance between him and the media, which certainly hasn't helped."
Marcotti, who is also a journalist and presenter, turned the tables on Lineker, challenging the ex-player's reported prowess in Spanish, which the BBC pundit took just 18 months to learn fluently after Barcelona signed him from Everton. "Have you heard him [Lineker] speak Spanish? Well, I have. It's broken and overly accented and for a guy who spends 30 per cent of his life golfing in Spain, I don't think he's really in a position to comment," Marcotti added.
An FA spokesman was reluctant to defend the England boss, but was keen to point out that Capello is fluent in Spanish and French and studied Latin, which makes English his fifth language.
Capello has worked with a language school since he first signed in December 2007, when he told the press he would be fluent within in month. He typically has a lesson every morning for up to three hours, although this depends on his movements, which can cut his lessons to one per week.