In his fine book, The Dark Heart of Italy, journalist Tobias Jones describes a country where politicians from the extreme left or the extreme right are never kicked out of public life – they are just rehabilitated. Some of the associations that would rule a British politician out of the mainstream for ever simply do not carry the same stigma in Italy.
Throughout the book, which is also an Englishman's love letter to Italy, Jones makes one thing clear: in Italy, there is no such thing as a career-ending mistake. If you have the influence and the connections, you never have to resign. Since the book's publication in 2003, Silvio Berlusconi has spent the last eight years proving Jones right.
The point is not that the English have the right to look down upon the Italians, or that English public life is intrinsically better. The point is that things are very different in Italian society. No decision has to be final. Everything is up for reinterpretation. There is a pragmatic acceptance that, well, things change.
Which brings us to the most famous Italian currently in English public life, who is showing worrying signs of that same old convenient forgetfulness in the face of a big decision.
Thirteen months ago Fabio Capello made the unprecedented decision to sack a serving England captain for a sexual relationship that the player in question, John Terry, has always denied took place. When Capello informed Terry of his decision in a brief meeting at Wembley Stadium on 5 February last year, a meeting in which Terry was not invited to give his side, he was lauded for his decisiveness.
The next day, the Daily Mail devoted a rare football front page to the headline, "Grazie, Signor Capello", thanking him for showing the "dithering" Football Association the way. On these pages, my colleague James Lawton – who knows a thing or two about England managers – compared Capello's show of authority to those of Sir Alf Ramsey. It had, he wrote, the effect on complacent English football of a "clap of thunder".
It was a personal view that, while it was a dangerous precedent to start punishing footballers or anyone else for who they choose to have sex with, clearly something had to be done about the firestorm around Terry. Capello shut it down at a stroke. He did not debate the intimate details of the case, he just got on with it. He exerted the power of a manager to act for the greater good of the team. And emerged stronger for it.
This is precisely why bringing Terry back now as captain – even in a temporary capacity – would be one of the worst misjudgements the England manager could make as he enters the final 16 months of his tenure in charge of this battered, unreliable institution, our national football team.
This is not the occasion to go back over what was alleged to have happened between Terry and Vanessa Perroncel and its effects, real or otherwise, on team spirit, the World Cup performance or Wayne Bridge's feelings. This debate is no longer really about Terry any more. This debate is about Capello: how he operates as a manager and how his decisions are perceived by the players he coaches.
If we are agreed that what set Capello apart in those halcyon days of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup was his aura of decisiveness and strength of mind – and that the same aura was diminished by England's performances and his decisions at the tournament – then to row back on such a big, difficult call would only serve to weaken him further.
Capello made the decision to strip Terry of the captaincy for a good reason. He did it to close down the distracting attention around Terry and the team and to re-exert the influence of the manager. Both of which are beneficial to the success of any football team. By reversing it he only weakens his own position and in doing so his capacity to make England successful.
It is not as if he is calling Terry in from an international exile and thus materially adding to the strength of the squad before they face their fourth Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales a week on Saturday. He would simply be tinkering with a relatively unimportant detail. What he stands to lose – his standing among his players and, indeed, the country at large – far outweighs what he stands to gain from Terry resuming the captaincy.
It makes Capello look weak. Terry cocked a snook at him in his famous post-Algeria World Cup press conference and now, nine months later, the iron man of Italian football goes back to ask the same player to lead his team again. Could you imagine Sir Alex Ferguson doing the same thing? No more than you could imagine Ferguson changing his name to Nigel and voting Conservative.
Capello has to realise that there are some decisions that cannot simply be reversed, forgotten about or smoothed over. Outside of those it affected directly, Terry's alleged transgression was not the worst ever committed by any footballer. In this case, there is no appetite to destroy the career of a very good England international. But equally he, like his team-mates, has to know that Capello's decision is final.
Lose that and you have to believe that Capello's capacity to do the job is all but gone. It is the principle of the thing. It has looked since the World Cup finals that Capello has been a man relatively indifferent to his fate as an England manager. That he would do such damage to his own standing suggests that, when it comes to Terry, he prefers the Italian approach. Unfortunately, if he makes that choice it will be him whose reputation looks beyond saving.
Mancini exercises control in the corridors of power
I could not help but be amused by yesterday's revelation that some of Manchester City's players are unhappy at being told to prepare for games by running up and down hotel corridors by Roberto Mancini. It must be a bit like those 1980s Doctor Who episodes which invariably ended with the key characters being pursued at speed down a corridor as long as the BBC's drama programming budget at the time would permit.
Of course, as with all these kind of managers, it is not really about the stretching and the preparation. It's about the control. They want their players to submit to their ways. That's what you have to admire about Mancini. He is determined to break in his squad of multimillionaires and if it involves looking daft in front of the other hotel guests, so be it.
Torrent of abuse ensures taboo will remain in place
Almost six days since Anton Hysen, the professional footballer son of ex-Liverpool player Glenn, came out as gay and already one Swedish newspaper has been forced to remove a story about him from their website because of the volume of homophobic abuse.
The measured, sensible attitude of Anton, who plays for Utsiktens BK in the Swedish fourth tier, suggests that he will be fine. Sadly, it does not seem likely to be a tipping point for other gay footballers having the confidence to follow suit. "Where the hell are all the others?" Anton asked in an interview. "No one is coming out." He accepts it may well have a negative effect on his career. All of which points to this unfortunate taboo continuing, despite Anton's best efforts.Reuse content