Over the course of the last week something of a crisis has developed regarding the England national team. At the centre of the controversy lies Italian manager Fabio Capello and his decision to reimburse Chelsea defender John Terry with the hefty responsibility of the England captaincy. The current captain, injured Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, has thus been stripped of his role.
Capello’s decision was always going to be controversial given the intense media interest that surrounds the England national team. The England managerial job is the epitome of the footballing goldfish bowl in which you cannot escape the gaze of the frenzied observer. One of the key things you must do as England manager, then, is to act in a reasonable and self explanatory fashion. To the extent where you do not look like a buffoon, at least.
Alas, Capello has only went and made a complete idiot of himself in his latest decision. Reports have emerged on Sunday morning suggesting that the 64 year old boss did not even consult Ferdinand before stripping him of the captaincy. One paper also suggests that the England dressing room is furious with Capello’s mishandling of the situation. Ferdinand no doubt feels, to use his own terminology, as if he has been “merked”.
The apparent incompetence of Capello is drawn into sharper focus by why Ferdinand was captain in the first place. Terry was stripped of the England following shocking revelations little over a year ago that he was having an affair with former Chelsea teammate Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend. Explaining his decision, Capello magnanimously stated: “I have to take into account other considerations and what is best for all of the England squad. What is best for all of the England team has inspired my choice and Terry was notified first.”
One cannot help but wonder why Capello has decided a mere year later (a short time in international football) that Terry is somehow exonerated from this sordid state of affairs. Furthermore, his ability to notify Terry, as the above quote suggests, but not notify Ferdinand, a player who has always given his all for England, displays an alarming degree of inconsistency in Capello’s man management. The whole story is reflective of broader themes that surround the seemingly impossible job of managing England.
Capello is a manager of immense pedigree, make no mistake about it. He has won league titles with AC Milan, Roma, Real Madrid and Juventus. He has also won the UEFA Champions League, amongst numerous other glittering trophies and managerial awards. Why, then, does it appear that he has absolutely no idea how to manage England? The team certainly isn’t performing much better than it did under Eriksson and McClaren, and 2010’s World Cup exit thanks to a 4-1 thumping from Germany was quite frankly embarrassing.
The reason is simple. The England job is a poisoned chalice, a job that drives seemingly talented people over the edge. Sven-Goran Eriksson had an impressive managerial record prior to taking the England job and yet he came to be regarded as an idiot following his unsuccessful reign. Steve McClaren became something of a hate figure during his disastrous reign and has since went on to win the Dutch League with FC Twente.
Capello’s latest gaffe is the product of a seemingly impossible job. One can almost sense the atmosphere of resignation that surrounds each England manager that comes along. The team can win games, but it can’t win the ones that matter. The team can play brilliant football, but it doesn’t often do so. No matter who the manager is, nothing seems to change. The reign of an England manager is thus a period of protracted inevitability. Optimism at the start, apathy in the middle, and outright opposition at the end. The job always breaks whoever holds it.
It won’t be long until the 50th anniversary of England’s only trophy, the 1966 World Cup. The knowledge that England are no closer to ending this barren streak is enough to drive any manager mad.