Learn to speak English in a month, change the culture of the nation's best footballers, stay onside with Sir Alex Ferguson, win the 2010 World Cup. In those terms Fabio Capello must be the most ambitious Italian on English soil since Aulus Plautius led the Roman invasion 1,964 years ago. He got away with conquering Kent and Essex; for Capello only the world will be enough.
Benvenuto Fabio, the Football Association's latest man who thinks he can. If it is possible to get a small measure of the man in the less-than-intimate surrounds of a hotel ballroom with 200 of the world's media in attendance then some basic conclusions can be drawn about the new England manager. Capello is not one for flippancies, he likes to do the talking but his English language skills are a long way off the level required to talk politics with Arsne Wenger or fine wines with Ferguson.
Probably a good thing in the circumstances because it meant we were spared a repeat of anything like Steve McClaren's great opening line borrowed from Alan Partridge of "Evolution not revolution". Instead, when he was officially introduced as England manager yesterday, what Capello seemed to be promising was indeed a revolution. A revolution in which reputations were of no importance and the desolate landscape of English football is viewed through a fresh pair of eyes a pair of eyes framed by a very smart pair of designer spectacles.
The key points? On the details, Capello proved himself about as difficult to hold to specifics as Vito Corleone's accountant. In summary he was positive about David Beckham, the man he fell out and made up with at Real Madrid last season, which suggests that Los Angeles Galaxy's finest will get his 100th cap in the Wembley friendly against Switzerland on 6 February. John Terry was not given any assurances about his captaincy. And Capello spoke about restoring pride in the self-esteem of English footballers.
The last point was interesting because it was precisely the kind of rhetoric you would expect from a manager like McClaren rather than a Capello. More than once he mentioned pride and the significance of playing for one's country, which was unusually populist. Capello might be the first England manager who is as comfortable interpreting a Jackson Pollock as Wayne Rooney's ProZone results chart but he is not adverse to a bit of old-fashioned tub-thumping.
As ever the occasion was replete with all the usual FA idiosyncrasies including an interpreter whose version was loose to the extent that even Capello corrected him at times. The Italian occasionally referred to Sir Trevor Brooking as "Sir Brooking" who himself was the only one relaxed enough to laugh out loud at the absurdities that events like these often throw up. FA chief executive Brian Barwick spoke quite well given the mindless criticism he has endured over the appointment process from one of the more turgid characters on his board.
The only two English footballers whom Capello mentioned unprompted were Ray Wilkins and Mark Hateley, in answer to a question about why he had never signed an English player in all his 16 years as a coach. This pair, he said, had been signed by Milan on his advice when he was a scout for the club he would later manage. It was difficult to know what to make of Capello's hitherto unspoken admiration for Wilkins and Hateley. At the very least it sounded like good news for their modern day equivalents: what price starting places for Michael Carrick and Dean Ashton?
On the subject of an English coach, Capello did the FA a huge favour by claiming it was him who advocated the inclusion of a native on the staff just as the whole project had started to smack of pointless tokenism. "From the first time I spoke to Trevor I asked for an English coach to be integrated into the staff," he said. "I have done it before [at Real Madrid with a Spaniard] and it is vital we have someone who understands the football culture of the country."
On Beckham, Capello was unusually warm. The 61-year-old said that the midfielder had proved himself "a great player as well as a great man." He balanced that by saying Beckham was "among those for whom I have great esteem". He added: "I believe Beckham is the type who when he sets himself a target he achieves it." And then the caveat: "I still have a month to go before I have to make a choice."
Capello only managed a few prepared words at the start of the press conference to express himself in English a glorious opportunity to break the ice by joking about Barwick making him a 4m-a-year offer he could not refuse. But there is no messing around with Capello: he said instead that he was "happy and honoured" to be given a job that he "wanted for a long time". And later, in Italian, he broke into a treatise on what he believed it meant for the English footballer to represent his country.
"I believe that English people have a pride and a love for their country," he said. "My task is to bring it out so they give everything when they play for England. You have to deserve to play for the national team. Not only with your performances for your club but by showing the attitude that you want to be part of an important plan and an important team."
Capello confidently gave himself a month until the Switzerland game to master the English language: in fact it was just about the only concrete promise that he made yesterday. Either way, when the England squad meets up Frank Lampard will no doubt be quietly confident that, for the first time, he is getting value for money for that Latin GCSE he passed as a teenager at an Essex private school.
There was not much frivolity from Capello himself although he smiled when reminded of the incident in which he allegedly punched Paolo Di Canio and then went on to deny he had done it. He also grinned when asked whether he would be employing his dictatorial style with England's under-achievers. "I believe that a strict style of coaching can only be applied when you are in contact with the players on a daily basis," he said. "It's impossible to adapt in a week, I will have to learn the habits of the individuals."
For the full Capello it seems we will have to wait. The ruthlessness and pragmatism are all yet to come and if yesterday was an attempt to tell English football its problems in the gentlest way possible Capello should feel no compunction to be so kind. The palsied state of the England national team is no secret, the patient is well aware of the problems. All it needs now is the cure.Reuse content