There were several reasons why the Football Association moved so swiftly to recruit Fabio Capello but one of them was definitely its preoccupation with the media. Having been involved in England squads for the past few years, I have got to know the people behind the scenes of the governing body and had a small insight into how they work. What has struck me after winning a game is the sense of relief within the emblazoned suits of the staff. On a plane coming home from one away victory, I remember turning to one official and saying it had been a good week for all involved. "Yes, the press will be off our backs for a month at least, great," he replied. Given the fiasco surrounding the attempted appointment of Luiz Felipe Scolari last year, they would have been acutely aware of the pressure to get it right this time.
I think they have. Obviously, as someone who wishes to catch his eye, you would expect me to say that but I genuinely believe he is an inspired choice. The level of success that Capello has had will demand respect from all England footballers, who I am sure will be as eager to impress as I am. There is no doubt in my mind that although effort has never been an issue from the squad, new levels may well be reached under Capello.
Dealing with the country's press is one of the many difficulties that face any manager of England. In the Premier League there is an enormous focus on the managers. The bigger the club, the bigger the pressure. When Alan Curbishley became manager at my team, West Ham, a year ago he was amazed by the amount of press interest there was in this club compared to during his time at Charlton. The step from club level to international level is much, much greater.
One man I thought was excellent in dealing with the media pressures was Sven Goran Eriksson. As England manager he had an ability to shrug off criticism and laugh off personal attacks. Once, after an international match at Old Trafford we had a Saturday evening to spend by ourselves in the team hotel before the next game on the following Wednesday. Players were allowed to bring their wives, partners and children to the hotel for the night, with them returning home the next day. A meeting was called for the single players, like me, who did not have family present, and who would be visiting the busy hotel bar. It involved a very brief chat from the manager who wanted to get his point across. "Boys, you like what I like, but tonight please come back to your rooms alone!" For months he had had his personal life probed and pulled apart by the press and public, but he was still able to laugh it off and use it to his advantage.
Capello and Eriksson have both managed successfully in Italy. Italians, like the English are passionate about their football. Not only do they have large amounts of their daily papers devoted to the game, they have newspapers almost solely dedicated to football. The pressure in Italy must be close to that of England.
The contrast between managing club and country are not solely based on the interest and pressure. Capello's record speaks for itself, winning league titles at every club he has managed, with success in Europe as well. But he has never managed at international level and I am sure he will notice differences. One is the degree of access he will get to players, which can affect performance.
A lot has been made about previous managers being unable to get the best from England players, who are then criticised for being overpaid and not caring. As someone who has been in England squads, trained and played with the England team, I can say categorically that this is simply not true. I can remember perfectly making my debut for England against Colombia two years ago and realising a boyhood dream. Not once did it enter my head that I was not really bothered about the result, nor how much I was getting paid. And I don't think I could find a capped player who would say otherwise.
But of course, caring about playing well does not mean you automatically will. Many circumstances make it difficult for an England manager to get the best from his players and a crucial one is training. The week's training is a key time for the manager to get to know and work with his players, but in my experience this training time has been short, a lot less than at club level, with the coaching team scared of overworking players and sending them back to their clubs fatigued or injured. The problem is, it is a long week with a lot of rest time and little to do other than sit about the team hotel. On the day of an England game I have often sat watching and asked myself 'If I was playing, would I feel as sharp in myself as if I had spent the week training with my club?' I was never sure if I would.
Also during a training week there is little time to prepare the side for the match. With players needing to rest after a Sunday game, maybe not being able to train at all with knocks and bruises, it gives the manager only a couple of training sessions to look at possible options. Because of this lack of bodies, I have, somewhat bizarrely, played more training sessions with England at left-back than in goal. Many an hour has been spent with me petrified of making one of my trademark clumsy tackles on David Beckham or Shaun Wright-Phillips and being hounded out of the country for ruining England's chances of progressing.
A big issue that faces any England manager is the problem of incorporating the strengths of the Premier League into a tactically-minded international side. The pace and power of the English top flight are rarely brought into European Championship and World Cup qualifiers. Often I have played in league matches when if a team does not start at a hundred miles an hour then they can be blown away by the opposition within the first 20 minutes. In the 30-odd games I have been involved with England, I think there has only been a handful of goals scored in the opening 10 minutes of a game. It is more like a game of chess, slowly working spaces in the opposition's defence to then exploit. This style of play is suited to Italy, Capello's home country. He has won numerous scudettos with different clubs there. Success like this does not come through being tactically naive.
With the lack of English managerial talent available and willing, I feel that the FA were right to go for a man who has spent his life working, and winning, in environments in which pressure and controversy are never far away. It may even take the weight off their own shoulders.Reuse content