The latest joke about the prospective new England manager: how does Fabio Capello solve the Lampard-Gerrard conundrum? Answer: drop both of them.
The tough guy is coming and, so the wisdom goes, the more ruthless Don Fabio is with our underachieving national team, the better. We like the fact he talks English like some growling long-lost relative of the Sopranos because there is an old rule of popular opinion that any new England manager should be the polar opposite to what went before him.
Check the recent history. Kevin Keegan was the players' friend, brought in to appease those whose feelings had been hurt by Glenn Hoddle's aloofness. Sven Goran Eriksson was the balm to the frenetic Keegan reign, the detached Swede to calm the ship after what Gary Neville once called the "dark days". Six years of Eriksson and everyone had decided they were fed up with Johnny Foreigner Eriksson and Luiz Felipe Scolari. What was needed was an English hand on the tiller.
Twenty months on from Steve McClaren's appointment it turns out we were wrong about that one, too. What is actually required is a coach so successful that he could not give a damn for the reputations of our most famous players. The kind of manager who has more medals than Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard put together and who cares if he speaks English no better than the average Sicilian hit man?
However, you feel about Capello taking charge of England one thing is evident: the Football Association is continuing that tradition of appointing a man as different as possible from his predecessor. It tells us what we already knew about the England national team; that they go back to the drawing board each time in the hope that the latest radical departure will be the one who solves 40 years of chronic underachievement.
As a football coach, however, Capello is arguably the most credible man the Football Association has appointed since the war. His suitability to coach the footballers of this generation, to win trophies in the modern game and to stand up to all the attendant pressures that the England job brings are simply not in question. He is managerial gold. The problem is that he is taking on a team whose performances are more commonly compared to another naturally produced substance at the opposite end of the scale.
First it is important to dispel one nonsense that has stuck to Capello as he has become the leading contender over the last seven days: that old criticism that his teams play dull, defensive football. For the English football nation to make that kind of complaint at this lamentable stage of its national team's history would be comparable to stepping outside on Christmas Day and commenting that the brand new Ferrari sitting by the kerb for you is very nice but could you please have it in a different colour?
If Capello wants to play catenaccio for the next two and half years to get England to the next World Cup finals, then that will be infinitely more preferable to the shambolic retreat against Croatia in last month's Euro 2008 qualifying disaster. The FA is not in a position to demand that the England manager must, at all costs, deliver performances of heart-stopping beauty. The England team are currently outside the top 16 in Europe alone, low on confidence and under immense pressure to qualify for 2010. If they were a government department, they would be deemed not fit for purpose. In short, the team need to be rebuilt, first and foremost, into a winning side.
Those with an insight into Capello's career say that he has simply organised his teams according to their abilities: the less talented the players, the more conservative the team. When he took over at Real Madrid last season he realised what the rest of the world could see: the club were a disorganised bunch of superstars who needed some order in their lives, and his methods worked. The truth is that Capello is far too smart and too successful to be just one kind of coach whose teams have only ever played one kind of football.
What Capello has that none of his predecessors shared is the right to call himself bigger than the England job. He has a record and a reputation that make him a lot grander than the organisation and team he is about to take charge of a claim McClaren could certainly never make. Even Eriksson, with his solitary Italian league title, was taking a step up from Lazio to England. Capello coming into the England team at this point of its decline is the equivalent of Sir Alex Ferguson agreeing to take over at Charlton Athletic. He is not likely to be fazed by the prospect.
It is worth considering a brief history of Capello outside of football because it tells you something about the character. His father was a primary school teacher who, during the Second World War, had been interned in a German prison camp. As a young player, Capello's father took him to a trial with the side SPAL, the equivalent of Wigan Athletic in 1960s Italian football, from Ferrara near Bologna. It was in that town he met his wife, Laura, who was studying to be a teacher. They have two sons, Pierfilippo, a lawyer who acts for his father, and Edoardo, who has two children himself.
After his career as a player at Roma, Juventus and Milan ended, Capello gained experience in business with Mediolanum, one of Silvio Berlusconi's companies, where he worked in insurance. He left to work in the academy at Milan but not before he gained some understanding of the working world outside football and picked up enough English to get him by when speaking to Dutch players in his later years as a manager. Apparently, the talk of him owning an art collection worth 10m is wide of the mark but he is a classical music connoisseur and a regular at La Scala.
All of which will delight the chattering classes who claim a stake in English football now, especially as the only clue to the musical tastes of McClaren was when he turned up at a Take That show. Capello, however, does not seem the type to be seduced by the celebrity of the job in the same way as happened to Eriksson. He has too much of a reputation to protect and appears to take himself extremely seriously. His life has been a study in football, and a very successful one too. He is the austere personality that English football craves at the moment.
Not that there is any guarantee he will be a success. He will be fighting a system with immense problems; a shortage of great players and a reluctance among the top English clubs to make the needs of the national team a priority. He will be up against the unfamiliar peculiarities of this particular football nation, the like of which they did not teach him at Coverciano, the de facto university for Italian football coaches.
Nevertheless, there does not seem to be a more suitable candidate for the job at this sorry moment in the England team's history. Austerity, leadership, direction England finds itself in need of something approaching a modern-day Victorian schoolmaster. There has never been a time when the English football nation has been more prepared to tolerate radical changes any changes in order for their team to be successful. It must be an attractive prospect for Capello, but he certainly is not the first man to bring with him the shock of the new to this particular job.
From footballers who have played under him, to international and club managers, they all have one thing to say about his qualities as a potential England manager: he's brilliant
"Capello is the best possible choice for England. It's enough to see how many trophies Capello has won to realise what his qualities are."
Marcello Lippi, 2006 world cup-winning Italy coach
"Even when Jose Mourinho was in the running, I believed that Capello had the charisma, talent and experience for a challenging job like this."
Gianfranco Zola, former Italy striker, tipped to be capello's No 2
"With Capello you can start dreaming of winning again. He'll give you the best chance you've had for ages, a better chance than Eriksson did."
Dino Zoff, former Italy goalkeeper and national team coach
"Capello is ideal for this job. If England are capable of winning something, I truly believe Capello is the man who will bring it out in them."
Arrigo Sacchi, former Italy coach, who succeeded Capello at Milan
"I have known Fabio for a long time and he is an outstanding candidate. As far as the technical part of the job, you do not have to worry."
Arsne Wenger, Arsenal manager and friend of Capello
"He's always been a winner wherever he has gone... Fabio thinks about England as the mother of the game and the teacher of football."
Franco Baldini, Capello's Assistant at Roma and Real Madrid
"Capello has the kind of personality that I think England need at the moment. I have a lot of respect for him as a manager he has a great track record. I think it is very important that the next manager we pick has a big personality with a big history, and Capello certainly has that with the titles that he has won at all levels of the game."
Frank Lampard, Chelsea and England midfielder
"To manage a national team you need to be a certain age, have experience and presence, and
an indisputable CV. Capello has all that."
Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager
"He is very specific and very clear what he wants from every player. Sometimes he really pushes you to the limits and that, of course, has proven effective. He has always asked for 100 per cent in training and on the field but he is not a very demanding person off the field. He can also drink a beer with the players in the bar or the hotel. When the focus is on the training, then he really expects 100 per cent and not less. He would rather have less quality but committed players rather than quality players who are not committed."
Clarence Seedorf, midfielder at Real Madrid under CapelloReuse content