James Lawton: With respect, Il Capo, even Sven would have struggled to concoct this week's gaffes
Saturday 15 May 2010
Wait a minute, Fabio, wasn't it the idea that we absorb your football culture rather than the other way around?
With great respect, Il Capo, the question is hard to avoid, even by those of us who still believe that when it matters most you will remember who you are and what you have to do.
Certainly in the last few days we have had to wonder what happened to the pasta fagioli, that sturdiest of Italian dishes, during the serving of a smorgasbord disquieting enough to conjure some of the worst of the Sven Goran Eriksson regime.
No, Capello may not overnight have been imprisoned by the instincts of the unlamented Swede but this is not the week to make the claim with unbounded confidence.
The Capello Index was as misguided as any of Eriksson's commercial forays, and in one way more serious in that it would have blown the doctrine of dressing-room trust out of the water as spectacularly as Glenn Hoddle's ill-advised literary lunge after the disaster of the 1998 World Cup.
It would also have invalidated a significant part of the reason for the widespread approval which greeted the stripping of the captaincy from John Terry, who for many disqualified himself as much by his attempted financial exploitation of the role as his divisive mating habits.
Suggestions that in the selection of his provisional World Cup squad Capello has compromised another fundamental difference separating him from Eriksson, a refusal to countenance the idea of taking players to the tournament without overwhelming medical evidence of their fitness, are perhaps a little premature. So too is the idea that recent comments on the benefit to team morale of having "controlled" contact with wives and girlfriends during the tournament is some kind of green light for the sort of grotesque WAG gala that disfigured the last campaign.
But then quickly enough we are back in Eriksson country with the absurd appointment of the utterly unqualified David Beckham as an accredited England coach in South Africa. Here is a major eruption indeed of the problem which overshadowed the Eriksson years, a case of preferment, even lionisation, which apart from causing resentment elsewhere in the squad gave a depressing sense that England's destiny had been placed not on the anvil of achievement but the flimsy foibles of mere celebrity.
At one early briefing session, Capello was asked if was possible that in Italy there would be such a media and public clamour for an ageing player to be carried to the milestone of 100 caps. Could someone as significant, say, as Franco Baresi have been brought by sheer sentimentality to such an historic mark? Would Italian football thinking ever hook into the idea that you could measure accurately a man's contribution by the number of caps piling up on his sideboard?
Capello's answer came briskly enough. "Not in a million years," he said.
So, is it a somewhat disturbing case of when in England do as the English do when they are locked into the forces of fame?
Say it ain't so, Fabio, you are inclined to beseech, but down the last few years the answer has not been encouraging. He talks of Beckham's supreme status as a professional of unimpeachable values. He speaks of him as a talisman of bewitching quality.
Eriksson's deference to Beckham was unfettered, stretching to the point where he saw no need to speak to him about the implications of his public statement that he had deliberately sought to be cautioned by a referee for "strategic" purposes.
If Capello's final imprint on the team is as yet unknown, it is still possible to believe that he will avoid some of the worst of Eriksson's folly.
He is unlikely to be as passive as the Swede when England, confronted by a mere 10 of unquestionably the least impressive Brazilian team to win the World Cup, failed to muster a single meaningful attack in the second half of the 2002 quarter-final.
Nor, when the final medical assessments are made, is there any chance that he will take a team equipped with only one fully fit striker – and an untried teenager he has yet to see in serious action.
Capello has certainly not relinquished the aura of a man who can be expected to deliver forceful leadership when the pressure reaches its highest level in South Africa.
His willingness to broaden England's possibilities were bravely expressed in the sadly rejected overture to Paul Scholes, who no doubt concluded it was too late to revive his long discarded international ambitions. Capello showed a willingness to reach out, against the odds, for a quality which he believed might just be a precious addition to his resources.
In the week of the smorgasbord it was a dish of some substance. Scholes the player remains in his football dotage untouched by the distractions, and temptations, of celebrity. We can only hope this also proves true of the man who offered him one last run at the glory.
We need more honest appraisals of Anfield affairs
Merseyside's foremost football historian, journalist and broadcaster John Keith, continues to expand a formidable body of work.
His much admired dramatisation of the astonishing career of Everton's Dixie Dean will be staged at the Kingsway College Theatre in London's Gray's Inn Road next Friday night. Meanwhile, the biographer of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley has as his latest arrival on the bookshelves the topical autobiography of Ian Callaghan, who holds the record number of FA Cup appearances.
It is hard work but, perhaps as never before, someone has to do it.
Indeed, the need for an unvarnished recording of Liverpool's football affairs can be vouched for by anyone who has had the temerity to suggest recently that Rafa Benitez's reign at Anfield has been rather less than an unqualified success.
The consequence has been an organised tide of quasi-religious e-mail support for Rafa. You may say this speaks of exemplary loyalty. Spooky is another way of putting it.
Pompey's pride should have us all cheering for them
We've had the White Horse Cup final and the one annexed by the late Sir Stanley Matthews but nothing could adequately prepare us for a Portsmouth win over Chelsea.
Of course it will not happen. Chelsea are proofed against Everest and K2 levels of complacency. However, the nation surely wears the blue of Pompey rather than that of Chelsea this afternoon.
Portsmouth's off-field affairs are an indictment of a League which should do more than dole out the TV money. On the field, though, their players have performed with great pride, inspiring confidence that today they will do it once more with feeling. It is a stunning achievement in the most shameful of circumstances.
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