From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.24 :: Jun. 17, 2010
Fabio Capello's reign as England head coach has been far from satisfactory so far.
Suddenly, almost on the verge of the World Cup finals, Fabio Capello no longer looked — to those who had seen him thus — the impeccable figure that he had been. First, there was the embarrassing affair of the paned “indexing” of World Cup players, whom he himself, in a commercial enterprise, would be marking game by game; including, embarrassingly, his own. The Football Association, who seemed to have nodded the idea initially though woke up under the assaults of the Press to the excesses of it all, and it was duly vetoed.
Next came a couple of horribly limp, last gasp, performances by Capello's England team in friendlies. Each, true, was won, but in shabby circumstances. At Wembley, Mexico especially in the first half looked far the livelier, more creative, quick and accomplished team, though their relative weakness in defence allowed England to score a couple of goals. The second, by Peter Crouch, palpably offside. Only a glorious, one handed save by the England keeper, Robert Green, at the expense of the Arsenal and Mexico striker, Carlos Vela, prevented Mexico scoring, though they did reduce the England lead with a somewhat untidy goal before half time.
Still, England's 3-1 win at least looked good on paper. On to Graz, to meet in the last pre-World Cup game a Japan team supposedly in crisis, recently beaten at home by its closest geographical rivals, South Korea, with a manager seemingly on the brink of resigning. What happened? For much of the game, especially before half-time, the Japanese played cool, controlled football, exploiting loose England defence by going ahead from a corner.
England, missing yet another penalty through Frank Lampard, who had recently missed one in the FA Cup final at Wembley, scraped home, thanks only to a couple of Japanese own goals. Meanwhile, there had been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the sudden prospect of Capello walking out on his job, through a legal loophole, to accept a nine million pound a year offer from Inter. Having been struggling along on a mere six million pound a year from the FA.
I've known, liked, even admired, Fabio as player, critic and coach for over 35 years, but I don't think he has done an impressive job as manager of England. Above all there was his case of what I called Beckhamitis, the absurd practice of giving a plainly played out David Becham one “cameo” after another on the right flank, each rewarded with a meaningless cap. So that, numerically at least, he was able to overthrow Bobby Moore's record of 108 appearance. Appearance which, by stark contrast with so many of Bechmam's, were made over 90 minutes. With the highly honourable exception of the World Cup final of 1966 when, with extra time, he played 120.
Moreover, though Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard played reasonably well together in central midfield in the second half of the game against Japan, Capello has never been able to take the bull by the horns and solve the dualistic problem of the two, one tending in such a central role to cancel out the other. Time and again, one has said that sticking the right footed Gerrard out on the left wing not only wastes him, but excludes by definition a natural winger who could do the job properly.
As a club manager, Capello had great success with Milan (bar one season) and Juventus in Italy, Real Madrid in Spain. But he came to the World Cup finals with a blemished record.
Indeed, it is arguable that only once have England had a manager of true renown and that was Alf Ramsey. Little Nobby Stiles, who told him, tearfully, after the 1966 World Cup final, “You did it, Alf, we'd have been nothing without you” surely had a point, even if Ramsey's tactics, with his so called “wingless wonders,” were deplored in some critical quarters for their negative, future effect on the English game.
By 1972, when an England team without a midfield marker was taken apart at Wembley, in the Nations Cup, by Gunter Netzer's West Germany, it was plain that even Ramsey had shot his bolt, though he laboured on for another couple of years. But there was no taking away from him his huge achievement in winning England the World Cup with what has so far and may well in the future be — the only time.
None of his successors measured up to him, Bobby Robson was eulogised on his recent death, but the fact remains that he had been the object of ferocious criticism, after England had feebly lost all three matches in the European Championship finals of 1988 in West Germany. Graham Taylor, addicted to the long ball at Watford but reluctant to use it as England manager, was a disaster. Sven Goran Eriksson — like Capello, in Croatia, — had one glorious five goal win in Germany, but was otherwise a flaccid figure.
What of the World cup now? Argentina would surely be a far better bet with their array of attacking talent, were the explosive and erratic Diego Maradona not the manager. Right through the long qualifying tournament in South America, it was all too clear that Lionel Messi didn't or couldn't play for him, despite his Barcelona feats. Six goals were alarmingly given away against modest Bolivia on the heights of La Paz. Last gasp victory in Uruguay was followed by an outburst of obscene abuse of the journalists, by Diego. Such a superb player, such an erratic manager. But the grand panjandrum of Argentine soccer, Julio Grondona, who foolishly appointed him, has seemed scared to get rid of him.
The game's outstanding manager must surely be the “Special One”, alias Jose Mourinho, now at Real Madrid, after his European Cup triumph, his second, with Inter. But what nation could afford him? Italy's Marcello Lippi did win the last World Cup and years ago had a substantial spell in charge of Juventus, but at last year's Confederations Cup in South Africa, his Italy team was a shaky affair. The greatest of all Italian managers was surely Vittorio Pozzo, winner of the World Cup in 1934 and 1938, his tactics based on those (pre third back days) he'd seen in England as a poor student, before World War I. And Enzo Bearzot, in far more difficult psychological circumstances, triumphantly won the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Today though. The top managers tend to work for clubs.
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