James Lawton: Language barriers? Even Ramsey had his problems on that front

Any difficulties with the spoken word would in the long run be dwarfed by his football knowledge
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The Independent Football

Now that open season has been more or less officially declared on Fabio Capello it may be some small consolation to him that difficulties with the English language were not entirely foreign to the greatest of his predecessors.

Sir Alf Ramsey, a Dagenham man dedicated from an early age to self-improvement, was so sensitive about his working-class accent he went to elocution classes. This did not, however, impair his authority when he unveiled the 4-3-3 system that went so far towards winning England the 1966 World Cup.

Ramsey certainly had enough of Capello's magical 100 words – the number England's current manager this week suggested was sufficient to transmit vital tactical messages to his players – to get his point across in or out of the dressing room.

Results away from the football field, though, could be uneven. Before a friendly match with Morocco he told a television interviewer that, "Most certainly [a favourite phrase], we will treat these 'Morocians' with great respect."

In a follow-up question the interviewer rather pointedly referred to Moroccans. Ramsey frowned, then pressed on, "As I said, we will not take anything for granted against these Moricians – or whatever you call them."

Ramsey was always underpinned – as Capello no doubt will be whatever the outcome of his embattled stint in control of England – by the fact that any difficulties with the spoken word would in the long run be dwarfed by his knowledge of the game. This, though, didn't always prevent some edgy moments with some of his more waspish critics.

In the wake of that unveiling of the World Cup-winning system in a friendly match in Madrid, one of those assailants persistently challenged Ramsey's vision of the new England during an informal gathering back at the team hotel. Ramsey took off his immaculately tailored suit jacket, folded it carefully and then asked his tormentor outside. Is Il Capo nearing such a flashpoint? The best guess is probably not.

Ramsey saved a lot of his ire for the Scots. When one Scottish reporter greeted him on arrival in Glasgow with the words, "Welcome to Scotland," the England manager's response was well modulated but curt. "You must be fucking joking," he said.

A rather more civilised debate occurred in the back of a London cab shared by Ramsey, George Best and the distinguished sports writer Hugh McIlvanney, the exiled Scot who last Sunday had to remind some of his compatriots en route to the Emirates for the Scotland-Brazil game that Lowlanders tended not to wear kilts.

When McIlvanney made a point that wasn't entirely to Ramsey's liking he was asked, rhetorically, "and how many caps have you won, Mr McIlvanney?"

"No one respects experience more than I do," responded McIlvanney, "but experience is relevant only in relation to the intelligence exposed to the experience. If you send a turnip around the world it still comes back a turnip – not an expert in geography."

"Words, words, just words," said Ramsey. "Aye," said McIlvanney, "but they are quite useful if you want to say something."

There is, however, an important footnote. McIlvanney, as it happened, was a great admirer of Ramsey's professional capacities and never questioned the depth of a great football man's ability to speak the language of his game. Such courtesy, unfortunately, is not so apparent in the hounding of Fabio Capello.