The Nick Townsend column: Nothing gets lost in translation from this straight talker
Italian coach of new England retains mystique as the master with forthright opinions on Beckham, Bentley and Owen
Sunday 10 February 2008
Che sorpresa! No, for all Fabio Capello's mission statement that he would be sharing his thoughts with us in English by now, it was absolutely no surprise to be issued with the headsets on Wednesday; switch to option eight, English, and hear the wisdom imparted by England's 12th manager in an atmosphere like that within a UN security council meeting.
What would Sir Alf think of all this, you pondered. And yet, though the monotone voice of the translator offered no sense of emotion and appreciation of nuances, the lugubrious features of Fabio Capello conveyed everything he wanted to say on the vexed issue of the night. "It seems that the most important thing about England is that I call up David Beckham," were the new England manager's words, possessing more than an edge of irritation after the umpteenth similar question. "I think we should focus on England. If he's fit and ready to play, he will be part of my team."
While the clamour for vindication of his selections inevitably centred around the demotion of England Icons I & II, Beckham and Michael Owen, and the perceived public outrage at their treatment, Capellomust have found the experience perplexing. But is that not always the trouble with brave new worlds? They tend to be populated by those disinclined to surrender their affection for the familiar.
To those, Capello gave short shrift. To the lament that he had omitted two stellar names in English football, the Italian retorted sniffily: "Well obviously it's a free country and everyone can think what they like. But all I think about is the team. There are players particularly valuable to the team. But we need to put on the pitch a team to win games." There were, he maintained, no automatic choices. "I believe we need to look closely at every player and see how good they are, and how fit they are and whether they are in the form to serve the purpose of the team," he added, reminding us thatthere are no fewer than five friendlies before the World Cup qualifying campaign begins.
That is a pertinent point. Though Capello's first starting XI bore certain elements of mystery – in particular, the presence of Wes Brown and Matthew Upson, with Wayne Rooney a lone striker in what generously could be regarded as a 4-3-3 formation – his appointment post-McClaren endows him with a rare tolerance of his methods. Rarely has an England manager been granted the opportunity for such long-term experimentation. He is clearly intent on exploiting that fact to the full.
Though this column is not without misgivings about the Football Association foisting on England's international football this £6 million man and his coterie of Italian acolytes, there is a particular advantage to employing Capello. Although some of my colleagues painted an initial image of some high-booted commandant figure, as though those who have passed before him managed the players like indulgent mums on asink estate, he arrives largely untainted by preconception, apart from perhaps a keen understanding of Beckham, who played under him at Real Madrid.
Yet the preoccupation in some quarters with Beckham's non-appearance was all the more curious after the 90-minute exhibition of the "DB" Capello preferred to discuss: David Bentley. While the Blackburn player began on the right like a signed-up member of the Give Becks His Century campaign, profligate with his free-kicks and scarcely living up to his reputation as a talented but cocky so-and-so, he ended the evening in the role that Beckham always craved, orchestrating matters in central midfield, and doing so with panache and vision.
"I saw Bentley play on the right, then I saw him play in the middle of the park," said Capello. "I wanted to make sure where players best perform. I believe Bentley did very well in the first half, but especially in the second half he was particularly good." He added: "I am looking for a formation, and I'm trying to see players on the pitch doing something different from what they do at their own clubs."
The man in charge of newEngland was prepared to overlook an old failing: the capacity of England players casually to squander possession. It was just as well, perhaps, that Switzerland, ranked 44th in the world, were even worse in that respect, other-wise we could have had a rare failure by an England manager "early doors" in his internationalcareer. Only when he has uttered that classic Big Ron-ism will we know that Capello has truly mastered English football-speak. It could be a lengthy wait. Capellois shrewd enough to know he is far better off limiting himself to his mother tongue, and retaining his mystique as the master.
Plans to rule world signal death knell for people's game
The man whom nobody appears quite sure whether to applaud or demonise for his part in the pre-eminence of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, has managed it again: he has proposed the unthinkable, and incurred the wrath of many who regard it as unpalatable.
Yes, the Captain James T Kirk of football – his mission to boldly go where no man has gone before – has his Starship Enterprise ready to destroy the forcefield of opposition to a planned additional "international round" of League games to be played in five host cities. It will serve what is regarded as a worldwide demand for English top-flight football.
The fact that this scheme is not scheduled to go into orbit until 2011 offers much time for debate. It promises to be a vociferous one: about what it represents and what it could become, despite Scudamore's insistence that this would be purely a one-game-per-club bolt-on to the season.
For the moment, this concept alone is problematic enough; not least because potential host nations do not yet appear enamoured by the concept of seeing the likes of Fernando Torres. The demands of this target worldwide aud-ience are also overridingly concerned with the Big Four.
So, for the time being, the advent of this "international round" of matches must be regarded with a considerable degree of scepticism.
But whether we should decry its mere suggest-ion is another matter. Probably only if we labour under the misapprehension that elite football remains what it was.
Many of us lament the passing of the days when the old First Division tended to be more competitive, we stood on terraces, games kicked off at 3pm, players were far from being the multi-millionaires they are today, and Match of the Day was just that: one match. And there were no substitutes. Yet, from the moment of the Premier League's formation, football ceased to be the so-called "people's game" and, through financing, principally from BSkyB, and the subsequent flow of sponsorship became whatit is now, a global product, with one significant legacy already: foreign ownership.
Whatever the desirability of these developments within the game, with the result that the spectator has become something of an afterthought, they are irreversible. This is but the latest manifestation of "progress".
Coincidentally, all this comes in the week in which, in case you missed it, the Premier League decided to increase the number of substitutes to seven next season. And we used to laugh about the old game increasingly resembling its American counterpart – which, incidentally, has already staged regular-season games in Mexico in 2005, and in London last year.
The NFL's aim, we are told by a spokesman, is "about building fans for the future". The Premier League would say the same. It's just a question of whether you believe that those supporters should live on the other side of the world.
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