James Lawton: When a crisis calls for a calm head, there is no one better than Capello

Fabio's new contract was straightforward. He agreed it with one FA chairman, signed it with another - and remembered both their names

Saturday 05 June 2010 00:00

This is probably not the time to reopen the debate about whether his international achievements ever began to match his influence and his celebrity, but over one question there has never been any doubt.

When fears about the fragility of England's World Cup captain, Rio Ferdinand, were so swiftly and grimly confirmed, it was at least a little reassuring to be reminded that sometimes in life you get what you pay for.

Some hold the view that in these straitened times Fabio Capello may be a little overpriced at £6m-plus a year but not for anyone paying close attention yesterday when he walked off the training field besieged by still another crisis.

Then, the inclination was surely to believe not in a rip-off but the possibility that he may have come straight from a knockdown sale in Rome's Via Frattini.

Yes, he said, it was bad about Ferdinand, but what could you do but wait for a scan, and then a second opinion, appoint Steven Gerrard captain and prepare to parachute in the big, willing lad Michael Dawson?

Il Capo was also presented with a small pile of recent bones of contention but each one of them was softly kicked into touch with a re-assuring truth at the dawn of the great tournament. It said that Capello is not a man to mistake a problem for a full-blown drama.

It was sad about Theo Walcott, he agreed, but the fact was that for the moment at least he is no longer the player who so brilliantly launched England's impressive drive to World Cup qualification with his lethal performance in Zagreb. Shoulder surgery had diminished him, but, who knew, he might well rise again and sufficiently so to rejoin the England squad in qualifying for the European Championship. Sorry for Theo, yes, but please, andiamo, let's go on.

But what of the contract, he was asked. Oh, the contract, it was straightforward enough. He agreed it with one FA chairman, then signed it with another, and furthermore he remembered both their names.

What he really wanted to say, it seemed, was that he was excited to be in South Africa doing what he is paid to do, which is not walking some eternal public relations tightrope but making a team – and the tactics that best suit it.

He oozed such authority, and such a keen edge, that John Terry's meek acceptance of his loss of the captaincy in that brief interview with the boss seemed less a climb-down than a practical acceptance of a new reality in the life of England's football team – an unequivocal statement of who was the boss.

Was it right there was no alcohol in the team hotel? He didn't answer the question directly, but it was clear what he expected of his men. It was to stay focused, which is, we know, a state that some of England's players do not always preserve under the influence of a drop or two, not even to the point of avoiding protective custody.

An intriguing question which can not yet be answered is what happens if Gareth Barry's injury status is not satisfactorily resolved by next Saturday's kick off against the United States? Could it be that Gerrard will really be asked to sacrifice some of his attacking panache for holding duties in midfield and try one last time to forge a working relationship with his fellow multi-millionaire professional Frank Lampard?

If Sir Bobby Charlton, whom Capello met on his first day of official duty two years ago and said, "Charlton I want to take England to the World Cup final in South Africa," is any kind of sound witness we can take it utterly for granted.

Sir Bobby is on the record with his view that Capello, by some distance, is the closest thing to his winning boss Sir Alf Ramsey, and the implication of this is that the Italian will think nothing of demanding any sacrifice from his players. It is precisely what happened to Charlton on the eve of England's only World Cup final when the coach sat down beside his most explosive and creative player in the team hotel in North London.

Charlton recalls, "After a short pause, he said, 'Bobby, I want you to do something for me. I want you to stick on Franz Beckenbauer every minute of the match. This boy is the only German player who can beat us. They have some other good players but I can plan for every one of them except Beckenbauer.

"I don't know what he is going to do from one minute to the next – and I don't think he does. So I can't lay plans for him. I can't know when he's suddenly going to try to get behind our defenders. It means I have just one plan for him – and it's you. You must shadow him every minute of the game – and don't go anywhere else."

Many years later Charlton and Beckenbauer went back to the game in which a whippersnapper named Alan Ball was judged to be man of the match. Beckenbauer revealed that he had received precisely the same instructions from his coach Helmut Schoen.

What was good enough for Charlton and Beckenbauer is maybe not too much to ask of Steven Gerrard. On yesterday's form, and all known antecedents, this is likely to be true in the eyes of Fabio Capello. Maybe, who knows, it is a little early to furl the flags of St George.

Dalglish may turn out to be the king, not the kingmaker

Kenny Dalglish, whose hero status may just have survived the cultish attachment of so many Liverpool fans to the fallen Rafa Benitez, is charged with doing more than pursue a new manager.

He is obliged to find someone who understands the true nature of the job, who realises that the strength of Liverpool down the decades was always the sense that they were required to maintain not only success but a precise set of values.

"With Liverpool," Bill Shankly once said in his little office beneath the old main stand, "you have always to make the people believe there is another team coming along and that some time soon it's going to go off like a great bloody bomb in the sky." By the time he reached his summation, Shankly had clambered on to his desk, where he stood with his fists clenched and a gleam in his eye.

He got his point over well enough that his successor Bob Paisley was on the phone to Jock Stein at Celtic to make a bid for Kevin Keegan's successor the moment the little man from Doncaster said that he was going to make his fortune in Europe.

Dalglish may quickly conclude that the man he wants is wearing his own clothes.

Shakib showing Bangladesh must be taken seriously

Whatever the outcome of the second Test at Old Trafford we already have good reason to celebrate the promise of the poor men of the game from Bangladesh.

Some argued that the series was bound to be just about meaningless. Instead it has brought us the reward of seeing genuinely talented young cricketers beginning to grasp the demands of the game at the highest level.

In the process they are also producing some nuggets of pure gold. The shiniest of them yesterday was the beautifully bold dismissal of England's best batsman Kevin Pietersen by Bangladesh's captain Shakib Al Hasan. Alone, it was worth the admission price for anyone who loves the game.

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