James Lawton: 'Capello's Creed' announces sudden end to comfort zone of the golden generation

The players' days of ease and certainty have a somnolent date with the fishes
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Fabio Capello favoured the phrase so often when he introduced himself to his new football nation yesterday it might have been a litany. "Io credo I believe...", he must have said it around a dozen times, and on each occasion it became a little bit easier to believe not just in his beliefs but also in him.

This was not just because of his style, which was impressive in that it spoke of someone utterly sure about the values which have made him one of the most successful football men in the history of the game, nor even his resolve to master the Queen's English to an effective degree within a month, but, more than anything, the sense of a man who would rather immerse himself in a vat of burning oil than compromise a single tenet of his working philosophy.

Given that he has warned us that it will take at least four more weeks before he can articulate these convictions as eloquently as he might do in his native Italian or the excellent Spanish which he apparently learned as quickly as he now proposes to acquire English when he was first appointed coach of Real Madrid, it is good to have his translated thoughts carrying us through the brief communications void.

Relatively clipped though they were, they still permit the drawing up of a skeletal but still revealing version of what might be described as Capello's Creed.

It is no doubt a little early to write the Italian commandments in stone and haul them down from the mountain top but when you place them alongside a quite stunning body of work they do ring with an authority perhaps not heard from an England manager since Sir Alf Ramsey uttered his historic pronouncement more than 40 years ago. Some of his players winced at the pressure it would bring to their shoulders, but the boss was unflinching. "Most certainly," he declared, "we will win the World Cup."

Yesterday Capello stopped a little short of that, but he did say how delighted he would be if the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa involved his old country Italy and his new one England.

If it should happen and when you think of the plight of England these last few months it took a certain nerve to even float the possibility there will be no difficulty in tracing the origins of the success, certainly not if Capello is as good as the words he used when laying down his imperatives in a West End hotel.

Inevitably David Beckham, who on Saturday told that large part of the nation watching Michael Parkinson's final talk show that he saw no reason why he shouldn't play for England through to 2010 when he will be 35, and four years into his lucrative American sojourn was on the agenda. Capello said that Beckham was a big player, a big man and had responded well to the challenge set him at the end of his last season at Real Madrid. But the kicker might have come from some weathered old mule from the high sierra. It depended on Beckham, his attitude, as it did equally for all those who, right up to the catastrophe against Croatia last month, showed up at England gatherings as though claiming a right rather than enjoying a privilege, whether he made it into the first Capello team, even his squad.

Without saying it in so many words, the Italian's meaning might have been written in the sky. The days of ease and privilege and certainty for the likes of Beckham, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and any other self-elected, fringe member of an alleged golden generation, have a somnolent date with the fishes. Capello's priorities were spelled out in a series of philosophical statements, all underpinned by the realities of his new situation.

"Good question," he murmured, when he was asked how he resolved the dichotomy of the foreign-dominated top of the Premier League, its style and its furies, with the need for new standards, of both commitment and performance, in the England team. Capello revealed that he had given himself a chore quite as onerous as his fast-tracked English lesson. He is going to watch all England's performances in their failed qualifying campaign in the European Championships. For a man of such stringent standards, and demands, the ordeal will no doubt be profound, at times seem interminable, especially when he gets to the first half of the Andorra game in Barcelona and all four in the two games with Croatia.

But you sense it will be done and that those of the old England players' club who hope to be part of a new team, with a new emphasis on consistent performance, would probably be wise to do the same.

Nor, it was clear enough reading between the staccato lines, will there be any more of the absurd compromises which Sven Goran Eriksson, particularly, seemed always so ready to make with Premier League clubs, with the desperate exception, of course, of his dependence on an unfit Wayne Rooney in the last World Cup.

Eriksson abandoned the concept of team-building through friendlies. He threw caps around so profligately that he provoked Uefa legislation. Capello will take every opportunity, he makes clear, to shape his team, his squad ... friendlies will not be paynights, of questionable value, at Wembley but vital chances to explore the ability of players to adapt to international football, to dovetail, to develop.

"It is important to have a style," said Capello yesterday, "but you also have to be able to adapt."

The Italian didn't linger over his points. He didn't massage his audience, and when he was asked if he had indeed had a physical collision with Paolo di Canio, his answer had a splendid subtlety. He said he didn't throw the punch. But he was there. He was absorbing the chemistry of the moment, and drawing his own conclusion. Would he play sexy football? Everything depended, he suggested, on your line in stimulation. He would play the football best suited to the available talent, which was what Ramsey did, and Jock Stein, Bill Shankly, Matt Busby, Rinus Michels, most generations of Brazilian coaches, and the father of Italian football, Vittorio Pozzo.

For the sake of the day, and the potentially momentous sea change in the life of the England football team, we have called it Capello's Creed, but it is almost certainly not what he, nor any of the great men who have gone before him, would claim for themselves. It is something you learn, like English. You just take from your experience, your wins and your losses, read the right books and listen to the right people. The winners, that is.

Welcome journey beyond usual sporting boundaries

Kevin Pietersen, who up to now has, let's be honest, never quite announced himself as one of cricket's great lateral thinkers, has made a wonderfully insightful point about the Test scheduled to start in Galle today.

He said that worries about the condition of the ground reclaimed from the ravages of the tsunami are much less important than the meaning of playing the game, however the pitch cuts up.

Other members of the England team have made the same point, with a uniformity of feeling which the cynical might say smacks of superior, if orchestrated public relations.

If so, who really cares? The important thing is that on at least one occasion big-league sportsmen are coming out of their cocoons and addressing some of the realities of that big world outside of the boundary ropes.

It could well make them better people and, who knows, even better sportsmen.

Dallaglio's sense of perspective on thuggery is skewed

There was much agonising at Wasps at the weekend when their former captain, 60-year-old Alan Black, was ejected from the ground after attacking a Clermont Auvergne prop with a rolled-up programme.

Wasps' captain Lawrence Dallaglio pleaded for a "sense of perspective", and went on to point out that an elderly man had used a programme and now faced the possibility of a life ban while a player who threw six punches received a yellow card.

Perspective? It has maybe never been rugby's strong suit when dealing with thuggery which if it happened on the street would result in immediate arrest and, depending on the degree of the damage, possible imprisonment. Imagine if it had been some yob football fan who had got involved in such a shocking fracas. The best part of the constabulary would have been roused.