In The Firing Line

by Barry Landy

Without resorting to the rancorous slurs and bitter asides adopted by a section of tabloid newspapers and media outlets in recent days, weeks and months, it remains an undemanding task to question and disparage Fabio Capello’s management of the England team, the criticism and the perception of the Italian’s handling of team affairs barely recognisable from the dizzy pre World Cup heights, peaking in the near seamless qualification to the World Cup in South Africa.

The sea change that had engulfed the nation’s thinking in the immediate build up, during the tournament, assisted by the cries of discontent within the camp and in the aftermath of the doomed and abject performance needs little expansion. The exclusion of Theo Walcott, the inclusion of Shaun Wright Phillips, the indecision surrounding the custody of the goalkeeping gloves and Steven Gerrard’s housing on the left hand side of an unbalanced midfield were the opening lines of what was to become an extended list. The farcical and impersonal nature of Capello’s attempts to reinvent and extinguish the international football careers of Paul Scholes, Jamie Carragher and David Beckham respectively provide opportunity for little respite in the England managers’ public haranguing. Miscommunications with his playing staff appear to be the customary for outlet for Capello’s failings in recent times yet what he asks of the players on and off the pitch seems to be clear and concise, regardless of whether all parties (John Terry’s questioning of Fabio Capello’s regimental routine springs to mind, yet the conciseness and the obvious understanding by the players of Fabio Capello’s orders are glossed over) are in agreement.

The language barrier considered briefly, remembering that the Football Association hired Fabio Capello on a six million pounds a year contract fully aware of his less than assured grasp of English and having considered a man in his sixties may not be enamoured with having to learn his adopted country’s language from scratch essentially, it is not poor communication that is the former AC Milan and Real Madrid coach’s biggest problem currently, it is his poor prioritisation that yields an even bigger issue. It stems back to late last season when injuries had decimated England’s entire defensive line, prompting Fabio Capello to approach Liverpool’s retired former England defender Jamie Carragher, hoping to persuade the veteran of thirty four England caps to provide cover ahead of England’s trip to South Africa. The England boss was not the one that approached Carragher however, leaving the discussions to England’s general manager Franco Baldini.

The same scenario played out in late May when again it was Baldini who contacted Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes, fresh from enjoying a fine but ultimately fruitless end to his club season, again in relation with, like Carragher, returning to the England fold. “It wasn’t the manager who rang me, it was Baldini”, remarked Scholes. “I don’t know Capello really but maybe it would have meant more if he had phoned me”. Subsequent instances of botched exchanges, the most high profile if not entirely relevant to the future of England’s international side, was the revelation on television that David Beckham’s international career was effectively over at a competitive level have heaped more uncertainty surrounding Capello’s man management skills. Again Franco Baldini made the call to Beckham, after the live broadcast had aired but these misdemeanours are put into stark perspective when you consider that last Sunday at Goodison Park, following Everton’s draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers, the England manager spoke to Everton midfielder Mikel Arteta, linked with a potential England call up on the condition of obtaining a British passport, for which he is now eligible.

It is a bemusing skewing of priorities by the England manager, essentially ignoring his senior players and the pressing issues that have so shrouded and hampered his team even prior to their South Africa sojourn in favour of sounding out a Spaniard in non-possession of that all-important British citizenship. The period for citizenship applications to be processed is between six and nine months, rendering Arteta’s consequence to England’s immediate future as minimal.

The threat posed by Switzerland, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Wales in England’s qualifying section considered, Fabio Capello should have little trouble successfully navigating the qualifiers with minimal fuss given the pool of players and depth of resources at his disposal but with expectations for 2012 sated and the World Cup in 2014 in focus, what exactly Capello is building for is largely unknown. The man tasked with stopping England’s trophyless rot is now little more than a stopgap himself. His willingness to experiment with the young and raw talent of Jack Wilshere, and scouting players such as Phil Jones and Jack Rodwell, conveys an understanding that the core of England’s team is approaching the stage to be demolished and rebuilt. By the time a wholesale turnaround of players has taken place by 2014, Fabio Capello will be long gone and it remains to be seen whether the Italian can mould a side of capable of anything other than merely making an appearance in Ukraine and Poland in two years time.

Team England managing director Adrian Bevington, speaking to the BBC two weeks ago, stated his belief that post Capello, “the manager of the England football team should be English”. It is the paucity of English managers competing at the highest level of the English and European game that gives the ‘Team England’ their big dilemma. Where does the next English England manager come from? It is this lack of English managers that immediately spring to mind for the role that arguably was Fabio Capello’s saving grace as he clung to his job in the aftermath of the Rustenburg debacle. That and the amended contract he signed nine days prior to the start of the 2010 World Cup Finals. Once again on that occasion, Capello’s questionable prioritisation came to the fore.

For more great articles from Barry Landy, check out his own site Down In The Box.

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