Chris McGrath: England need Capello more than ever – and Italy could use a dose of his brute realism too

Cesare Prandelli has guaranteed more offensive potential in every sense by calling up Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano to his first Italy squad

There is a story, much cherished on the Turf, about the day Lester Piggott was beaten on a horse trained by Snowy Wainwright. "That's it, Piggott," raged Wainwright, as the champion dismounted. "You will never ride for me again." Lester was in his pomp, sought by every top yard in the land. Wainwright stabled half a dozen nags in a Yorkshire back-water. "Well, that's me screwed, then," Lester muttered. "I'd better hang up my boots."

Fabio Capello must have been tempted to respond in similar vein when those giants of modern football, Paul Robinson and Wes Brown, renounced service in the national cause.

It would not sound so very different, either. Capello can make Piggott, with his glottal mumblings, sound like some mellifluous Greek orator. Demosthenes, admittedly, trained himself to speak with pebbles in his mouth, but Capello, the Italian, still sounds as though he is swallowing a phrasebook. Until this summer, indeed, that seemed the one incongruity. How can such a man – one so cultured, so urbane, one who exalts himself from the bovine ruminations of those under his supervision, one who collects the works of Chagall, Kandinsky and Piero Pizzi Cannella – be such an execrable linguist?

Since the World Cup, however, pundits now doubt his fluency in the common idioms of football, as well. These will now be glorying in what appears a calculated affront from Robinson and Brown, who waited until Capello summoned them back to the fold before planting their feet and lowing.

To anyone not divorced from rational judgement by his wage packet, it should be easy to recognise a rather greater indignity than being ranked only the third or fourth best Englishman in your position. And that is to allow preening self-regard to poison the honour of representing your country. To others, however, this putative snub completes the sense that Capello is now a lame duck.

It must be granted that Capello's World Cup dismayed even those who never shared the delusion, espoused by those who should have known better, that his team had the remotest chance of winning the tournament.

In qualifying, albeit via a group that counted Andorra as the only other nation in existence 20 years previously, he had looked a man of iron. If anyone, for instance, would have the balls to drop Wayne Rooney – who had never retrieved his form, after being hastened back from injury by his club manager – it was surely Capello. But let's not deceive ourselves. We all admired his austerity, his contempt for the insecure reverence of his predecessor Steve McClaren for JT, Stevie G, and Becks. In South Africa, Capello became depicted as some kind of ludicrous martinet, stifling the enterprise in his midst. In reality, his failures were only ever a matter of degree.

It would require an especially puerile disenchantment suddenly to deny that Capello is one of the best coaches in the world. Remember Jose Mourinho's first Champions' League campaign at Internazionale? It was wholly devoid of any suggestion that he might imminently satisfy the club's great, unrequited craving. But one step back is often a necessary prelude to two steps forward.

And vice-versa. A vital revolution in Italian football, for instance, was grievously retarded when the Azzurri won the 2006 World Cup. One of the grandest of all football traditions remained mired in the bad old days: violence and racism off the pitch, stagnation and corruption on it. The singular circumstances of that success proved the final throes of an extinction. In South Africa, Italy finished below even New Zealand at the bottom of their group.

You can rest assured that Capello would have remained a very acceptable replacement for Marcello Lippi, after that. As it is, Cesare Prandelli brings his first squad to Upton Park tonight for a friendly against the Ivory Coast. Like his compatriot, who begins his World Cup exculpation against Hungary at Wembley tomorrow, Prandelli has made some necessary gestures to a livid public.

He has retained only nine of Lippi's final squad, and only one of the 2006 veterans. In particular, he has guaranteed more offensive potential, in every sense, by calling up Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano. Both were too combustible for Lippi's taste, but Prandelli finds himself in a situation where fire can pardonably be fought with fire.

In Capello's case, his critics prefer to view the enlistment of young players like Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Adam Johnson merely as a sop. But their venom simply reflects the misplaced sense of entitlement they had themselves nourished so credulously. Now that the veneer has finally been peeled from the golden generation, Capello can attempt some more pragmatic alchemy.

Funnily enough, in his time he has got the best out of Cassano himself. Great careers have blossomed under Capello through precisely the adventure and flexibility he is suddenly supposed to lack. At Real Madrid he blooded Raul at 18; he also vexed fans and pundits by switching him to left midfield, where he promptly scored 21 goals.

The best that can be achieved by Prandelli with Cassano and Balotelli, or by Capello with Wilshere or Johnson or a defender as comfortable on the ball as Phil Jagielka, is a sense that nobody – not fans, not media, never mind players or coaches – is entitled to complacency even in the most venerable of footballing cultures.

As one pebble-sucking Greek once put it: "The easiest thing of all is to deceive yourself. For what a man wishes, he generally believes to be true."

James Lawton is away

Why all the scouts will be watching Udinese this year

The best managers don't even send scouts to the World Cup. They know that all that glisters is not gold, and that players who catch every mug's eye go home with hopelessly inflated values.

Some smart business was duly completed before the tournament: Barcelona securing David Villa, or Manchester United discreetly signing Javier Hernandez. It still seems surprising, however, that nobody was sufficiently seduced by Alexis Sanchez to bankroll his inevitable arrival among the elite.

The Chilean winger looked every bit as special as Cristiano Ronaldo at the same age, light years ahead of every defender quaking in his path. Sanchez has four years left on his contract with Udinese, and the club president vows not only that he will stay, but that this "will be the year of his consecration".

Kwadwo Asamoah, also 21, has meanwhile pledged at least one more campaign after impressing with Ghana, so Udinese will be compulsory viewing this season. But much bigger clubs will some day reproach themselves for not forcing their hand sooner.

You can almost taste the sea salt in League One

Now if those in League One could just tread water for a season, and wait for the good ship Pompey to sink a few more fathoms, football on the South Coast will never have been such fun.

As it is, Plymouth began the campaign by beating Southampton away in front of nearly 22,000 people. Gus Poyet is assembling a team worthy of a new stadium at Brighton next year, while Bournemouth last season defied the steepest odds – including a transfer embargo that reduced them to filling the bench with the assistant coach and a schoolboy – to win promotion under one of the most promising young managers in the business, in Eddie Howe.

Though there remains the lamentable possibility of Portsmouth passing one of these teams on the stairs, there is an unmistakable new saltiness to our maritime football.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics rally to defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
News
John Cleese is promoting his new book
people
News
A-list actresses such as Deepika Padukone get paid a tenth of what their male counterparts make per film
news
News
The Black Friday Vines that will destroy your faith in humanity
i100

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
TV
News
Robbie Rogers: US former Leeds United footballer, 25, announced he was gay in February 2013, shortly after he left Elland Road. Rogers 'retired' after writing on his blog: 'I'm a soccer player, I'm Christian, and I'm gay.' Has since signed with Los Angeles Galaxy.
peopleUS footballer said he had hoped Michael Sam and Jason Collins coming out might have helped
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game