I’m beginning to subscribe to the theory that English football is immune to literally anything free of scandal. The postponement of Terry’s trial after being accused of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, brother of fellow England centre half Rio, set in course a chain of events which have culminated in leaving the England team without either a captain or a manager just months before they’re supposed to take part in an international tournament that Wenger, with some justification too, claims is harder to win than the World Cup.
Capello yesterday resigned from his position as England manager after a lengthy meeting with senior members of the FA board (let’s be clear that he genuinely resigned and this is not a mutual agreement between him and the FA so that Capello can save some face from being fired). As a consequence 4 years of putting together an international team and 20 months of preperation for this summer’s Euros has effectively gone to waste. 48 months of senior English international football have been wasted; I can’t think of anything extraordinary that Capello will leave us thinking ‘yes, in the long term we will look back at that and thank him for it’. Other than giving debuts to some young players, something which surely any manager would have done, there really is very little. There wasn’t a new consistent philosophy of football instilled in English football, there were no revolutions in the English football infastructure instigated by Capello and he certainly won’t leave us with fond memories of a successful tournament.
England is probably the most frustrating team to follow in the world. I can’t think of any others, not even Fulham. We have had, and of this there is no doubt, some wonderfully talented players. The ‘Golden Generation’ which we’ve watched over the past decade could certainly, player by player at least, match the Germany, Holland and Uruguay teams which made the World Cup semi finals two years ago. Spain is an anomoly, a country who’s second XI would rival most of the world’s first teams, a squad filled to the brim with world class attacking talent with a chemistry fuelled by a supported footballing philosophy, success on the pitch and by playing together at club level too. They’ve appeared quite vulnerable since the World Cup victory but remember that they lost to Switzerland in their first game there too, before dazzling their way to a tournament win.
There are many hypothesese put forward as to why we’ve over achieved and they all have some credence. Their loyalty, passion, abilities for what’s required in a top level team (i.e. technique), focus, the way they deal with the pressure have all come in to question. Maybe we’re not just as good as we think? I wouldn’t agree with that last one, but either which way the overwhelming consensus is that we’ve underachieved vastly since our sole success in ’66, without even a final to our name. And while we haven’t had our luck along the way (penalties, goals that weren’t goals but should have been goals etc.) there must be an underlying reason why, to be frank, we’re just so bad.
In steps Fabio Capello. A man with a huge amount of success, respect on the continent with several clubs, an authority on the game, an authoritarian who would finally get these primadonnas to buck their ideas up and deliver the success that we as a country crave so much and above which few people managing today can claim to be better. I was delighted to see a manager of his calibre take charge anyway, a figure wildly diametrically opposed to the shambles that was Steve ‘Schteve Brolly Wally’ McClaren, although I was uneasy that he wasn’t English, let alone speak the language. And that, ultimately, was his failing. To manage at International level the intensity of which you manage players cannot be the same as at club level. At club level too you have a myriad of cultures and societies in just a single match day squad but when you’re leading a single country you have just one dominating the dressing room (unless you’re Ireland who will give anyone who plays anywhere a cap as long as you have an Irish nan), and it’s one which you have to embrace, work with and understand. Capello failed spectacuarly in that regard, failing to connect on any emotional level with the fans, the media and probably the senior players. In hindsight it was doomed to failure.
Even still, to be without a manager so close to the Euros is not a favourable situation to be in. But how well did we expect to do there anyway? We had a good qualification campaign, but we had that before the World Cup too. We no doubt ‘could’ have won it, that’s one of the wonderful things about probability, but being honest anything beyond a quarter finals would have been a suprise. When we look back and evaluate Capello’s preperation for the competition it didn’t look that progressive. He was testing out some young players, and we did very well to beat a good Spain side with a very solid, tactical performance missing some key players but throughout history we have always clutched at straws and this is the only straw we could cling on to. Eventually the one which broke the camels back was the FA going over the head of Capello to remove the captaincy from John Terry (something which I think Terry should have done himself). In the past Capello has always needed to be the one in control and anyone undermining his authority would usually suffer a ruthless backlash so in a sense Capello going shouldn’t be too much of a suprise but I can’t help but think that if he really believed he was able to succeed in the summer then he would have continued in his role. He certainly cared about it, cared enough about it to miss a son’s wedding for a friendly anyway, but did he have belief that he was building a legacy, something to remember him by? I don’t think so. And it’s why when I found out I wasn’t actually that concerned for the health of the England national football team.
England is now left in a peculiar and unique situation. I think that, with the right appointment aka Harry Redknapp we could be entering the tournament with know expectation. For once the team will not be playing out on the pitch burdening the weight of expectation from a country so eager to see it do well because the fans will have sympathy with their plight; the drama and the lack of preperation isn’t an excuse, it’s a reason. It is a totally fresh start. So now, we will accept, I think, whatever results the team throws at us with just the one expectation which every fan in the world will have, for the players to give everything they have. A situation they could well relish.
So what now? The FA have done the sensible in giving Stuart Pearce the reigns for Holland in a few weeks. It’s a one off game sticking out like a burning tree surronded by tundra, and the months between Holland and the pre-tournament friendlies should be ample time to find a successor. The man on everybody’s lips is Harry Redknapp and it is not difficult to see why. Experienced, plays great football, adored by the players that work under him and loved by the press, can control egos, has the right personality to deal with the micro man-management required for a major international tournament, and last but not least he’s English. I can’t see him turning it down either, the Euros anyway. The friendlies start after the season finishes and Redknapp should have enough knowledge of potential England squad members that missing out on scouting trips isn’t too much of a problem. Should Redknapp turn down the job on those terms then Hiddink would be only too glad to step in I’m sure. Maybe Stuart Pearce, in a pinch. After the Euros? Well that’s another discussion entirely.
As for Capello, what will he leave behind? A good trivia answer to ‘What England manager has the highest win percentage?’ at least. But asides from that and an expensive invoice to the FA, is there anything?