James Lawton: In one swift but ruthless episode, Capello showed the world he's Il Capo

Click to follow
The Independent Football

You may say Fabio Capello merely did what he had to do yesterday, but it still had the effect of a clap of thunder.

We are just not used to such authority in the running of the England football team – not at least since the time when the late Sir Alf Ramsey responded wordlessly to the failure of such demi-gods as Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton to observe team curfew on the eve of a foreign tour. Ramsey had his assistant Harold Shepherdson place the players' passports, which had been gathered in for group travel, on to their empty pillows and let them sweat out the night.

Capello didn't grant John Terry much sweating time yesterday. He applied the sword swiftly, on his own ground, and the procedure took just a few minutes.

Il Capo plainly understood the requirements of the moment. It was not to wait tremulously, as Sven Goran Eriksson might have done, for the possible drip-drip of fresh scandal. It was to act on the copious evidence that Terry, for all the weight of his on-field presence, had failed to meet the responsibility of being England's captain.

Another debate is surely now about to break over the appointment of Rio Ferdinand, injury prone and certainly not without a chequered background of his own, as Terry's successor. It will centre around the argument that a permanent captain is a captive of fate, either through form or injury or indiscretion, and that it is better to go from match to match.

Here, this seems to ring of defeatism born of the idea that no-one in the England squad is capable of responding to the challenge of representing Capello's concept of what it is to be a professional footballer.

However, this is tomorrow's business. Yesterday's was conducted with the force that Capello's warmest admirers were anxious to see him display.

For some of us, though perhaps not a majority, his course of action was self-evident if he was to retain the credibility stockpiled so impressively in an almost formal World Cup qualifying campaign and his frequent insistence that not only was he in charge of the show, it was one that would be performed with scrupulous adherence to his values.

The mere details of yesterday's denouement were eloquent enough in what they said about the contrast between the style of Capello and Eriksson.

Terry was ordered from his Stamford Bridge citadel to Capello's lair the moment it was convenient to the manager. The clock on their meeting ran down at 12 minutes. There was no accompanying confectionery. Capello thanked his Football association employers for giving him free rein. He remarked favourably on Terry's contribution on the field. Then he sent him away.

As the business unfolded so swiftly, so inevitably, you could not help recall how it was when during Eriksson's regime some members of the dressing room were arguing for a strike before the vital European Championship qualifying game in Istanbul because Ferdinand had been left out of the squad after his failure to take a drugs test. Eriksson was having dinner with his assistants at the team hotel when the then captain, David Beckham, appeared to say that the manager was required at a team meeting. Eriksson put down his cutlery and sped away.

There was that other occasion when Beckham was sent off for a foul which he said later was made because it would suit England to have the threat of suspension for the captain removed in a relatively easy game. Would Eriksson speak with his captain about an extremely questionable decision? "No," said the head coach. He didn't see the need.

The authority of Capello was rather more apparent yesterday. He came home from his knee surgery in Switzerland and went to work immediately. He probably didn't relish the job, Terry has certainly served him well on the field, but nor does he seem to have agonised too much. Maybe it was inherent sophistication in the matter of handling professional footballers, acquired in lifelong and superbly successful immersion in the game.

There was also, no doubt, the contribution of the Italian football culture. It is far from perfect and, if we ever doubted that, we knew better after the match-fixing scandal, but it has an aspect which must surely have influenced Capello's reaction to Terry's behaviour, not just in the matter of cuckolding a team-mate and former great friend, but the irresponsibility displayed in his pursuit of any cheap profit that might be squeezed from the captaincy.

In Italy a footballer has achieved a mark in society. He has responsibilities, if not the obligation, to live like a monk, certainly the need to conduct himself with a certain degree of dignity. Italian footballers tend not to parade themselves in the watering holes of celebrity. Ian Rush, the great Liverpool player, was shocked on his arrival in Juventus to be told that there was no such thing as a players' bar. After a match Juventus players fulfilled their media duties, then tended to drive up to their homes in the hills.

Capello is anything but naïve and he could not imagine that he was capable of transposing one alien culture on to another in the course of a few years. But he could do certain things, including the imposing of new standards of basic discipline.

It is in this light that Capello's handling of his first serious crisis with England has to be seen. He did it with impeccable command. He saw the issue – and refused to accept that the ethos of English football is in such decline that he was powerless to make a stand.

He made a stand, all right. He kept his authority and the credibility that has been such a potent factor in his reign. Most clearly, he understands the most important dynamic of his job. It is that if you surrender even an inch of what you believe to be the difference between right and wrong you might as well walk away.

So he dug in his Italian heels. Bravo, Fabio.