The Italian's job: to bring in fresh blood and win back dressing room
Saturday 03 July 2010
When the Football Association left South Africa in a hurry on Monday evening they did so promising that Sir Dave Richards' investigation into the failings of England's 2010 World Cup campaign would take "a few weeks" at the very least to reflect on Fabio Capello's future.
"I'm not putting a time limit on it – a few weeks," said one FA official after Capello had suggested in his not-always-reliable English that he expected to be told of his fate within two weeks, thus putting the FA in a corner. They had hoped that a timeframe would not be discussed but once the Italian had mentioned it in his press conference and it was out in the open, there was no going back.
Yesterday, four days after launching their review process, the FA had come to their decision: Capello stays.
It was not exactly the exhaustive examination that the FA had promised in the immediate aftermath of the 4-1 defeat to Germany on Sunday, in fact it was nothing of the sort. The FA flight touched down in London on Monday and, recognising that the state of limbo in which they had left their manager was becoming more damaging with every day, the Club England delegation agreed to meet again on Thursday.
In the intervening days it became obvious that what the FA had intended to look like some kind of investigation – as if it was a judicial inquiry, or a murder case – just did not work in football. Instead it looked like dithering and the longer it went on, the more it undermined Capello and the greater the chance that he would lose patience and refuse to stay anyway. As for potential replacements, the FA did not have one.
That meant that by Thursday when Richards convened his Club England meeting, the board members – Sir Trevor Brooking, Adrian Bevington, Alex Horne and Michelle Farrer – had a very easy decision to make. They recommended to the main FA board that Capello stayed, got the Italian's acquiescence and did it quickly before they were hit with another two days' worth of "FA chaos" headlines.
This has not been the most glorious week in the 147-year-old history of the FA. They began it on Monday with the decision that they would take their time over the review of Capello's future – something they said that they "owed to the fans" – and they have ended it with an almighty U-turn. What have they achieved in the interim is to undermine the relationship with the manager to whom they have entrusted the England team for the next two years.
However you regard Capello and the merits of keeping him or not keeping him, the decision to put him publicly on trial and then abandon that idea and back him is a disastrous strategy. Capello has not made a success of South Africa but the aftermath of the tournament will have changed his relationship with the FA for ever.
The decision-making process is symptomatic of the lack of leadership at the FA, an organisation with no permanent, independent chairman and no chief executive. It is effectively run by Richards, the Premier League chairman, whose push for influence within the FA ended with him getting rather more influence than he bargained for. All that remains the same is their susceptibility to pressure from the media.
Having found himself the de facto head of the FA with the resignations of Lord Triesman and chief executive Ian Watmore, Richards came under pressure from the Premier League. The League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, was concerned at the public perception that the Premier League was appointing the England manager. That is why Richards has accelerated the process and pushed forward Horne, the FA's relatively-young, newly-appointed general secretary, to be the public face of the decision.
Capello was at his home in Lugano in Switzerland yesterday, the same place that the English media tracked him down to when he first accepted the England manager's job in December 2007. He is convinced that he is better-equipped now to take on the job than he has ever been and he will need every ounce of that enthusiasm for the task that lies ahead.
There is clearly part of Capello's squad that does not want him as manager any longer. They felt he failed to react during the tournament when performances went into decline. That same group of players, who are not all connected by club affiliation or even friendship, also feel that Capello's 4-4-2 formation was outdated and that he should have played something closer to 4-5-1 to leave them less exposed. There are issues between players and members of Capello's backroom staff.
That disaffection does not represent all the players by any stretch of the imagination. Furthermore there is a valid question to be asked: who cares what the players think? Very few of the current 30-somethings will be around in four years should England qualify for Brazil in 2014 and there was a lot of talk about retirement from international football in the aftermath of defeat to Germany.
As is the case with professional footballers, none of them will want to be the first to walk away and risk miscalculating the public reaction. But the fact that Capello is staying will be a major factor for those who fell out of favour with him.
Capello mentioned Adam Johnson, Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs in his last press conference on Monday but it is hard to see him cultivating a young team, especially with so few available. He is a conservative kind of manager who prefers more mature, established players. As for the next generation of English footballers, the talent in the academies of the bigger Premier League clubs has found it increasingly hard to break into senior teams.
The ticket sales for the friendly against Hungary on 11 August will be a concern, as will the worry that the crowd at Wembley will be in a mutinous frame of mind. The new stadium has been distinguished by some pretty poisonous moods in the recent past and Capello will be aware that if things go awry in the first Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Switzerland in September then there will be pressure on him and the embattled FA.
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