Sportsthoughts (11) – So Farewell Fabio… and ‘allo ‘Arry?

So Fabio Capello resigned as the manager of England’s football team last night. Brought down in the end by his misjudgement of the John Terry racism case. Clearly a suspicion that the FA manoeuvered him into the position where resignation was the only option – not consulting him on removing the captaincy of the England team, and so on. Equally, if Capello was having bad thoughts about the prospects for England at Euro 2012, this was a brilliant opportunity to withdraw without admitting defeat. So maybe, the resignation suited everyone directly involved.

And it suited the rest of us too.  Capello resigns. Hooray! It felt like a huge weight had been lifted.  Instead of this figure who appeared to have no empathy with English football, we might get a manager who really cares.  Who might inspire the team to better things. And of course everyone said the man was ‘Arry, good ol’ Harry Redknapp. It helped that he was found not guilty of tax evasion the same day!

What went wrong with Capello? He was signed up, at great expense, after the fiasco of Steve McClaren’s tenure.  The failure to qualify for Euro 2008.  The “wally with the brolly” as we slid out of the competition by losing at home to Croatia.  The excessive matey-ness  with Stevie G and JT and Frankie. The same lot who had flopped at the World Cup in 2006 in Germany. The same lot who carried on through Capello’s time. No-one ever worked out how to play two brilliant players – Lampard and Gerrard – in the same team, the same midfield. Why?

At first Capello – with all his Serie A and La Liga and European Cup titles – was greeted as the Saviour. Harsh and disciplined, clear about what needed to be done. Time to sort out the pop stars and their Wags. Focus on the football. Structure, clear roles, no dissent.  It worked for a while.  The press loved him.  Compare and contrast with McClaren. And the results were good. Especially when England destroyed Croatia in Croatia, 4-1, with wonderboy Theo Walcott let off the leash and scoring a hattrick.

But, but… the man didn’t seem to be able to communicate.  His English wasn’t good and wasn’t getting any better. What did he think of English football?  How was he going to get the best out of the players at the World Cup in 2010?  No idea.

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was a complete disaster.  Now we are used to poor starts in the Group phase.  The last time we were any good in the group stage was 1982, when we trounced France in the first match. (Still got knocked out before the semis, but never mind). But 2010 was a genuine low. Draws with Algeria and USA, a lucky 1-0 win against Slovenia. We came SECOND in a really weak group and as a result faced Germany in the last 16. They thrashed us 4-1. There were unlucky moments, like Lampard’s legit goal that was disallowed which would have got us to 2-2; but really, we were rubbish.  Slow, unstructured, unimaginative, un-everything good. It was so bad!

There had been all sorts of rubbish going on in the background.  Unhappy players, bored from long periods of isolation (the Italian retiri, which just didn’t work for our simple lads). Unhappy about styles of play, unhappy about everything  But when JT sought to lead a mutiny, he wasn’t backed up.

In football terms, a complete disaster. But Capello wasn’t sacked. He was given until Euro 2012. And in fairness, things got a bit better. New players were brought in. Jack Wilshere, until he got injured, looked like the future star. Scott Parker, who should have been in South Africa, got his chance, and provided the defensive midfield cover that released others.  The defence looked solid, and Rooney seemed happy again. There were dodgy moments, but in the end we qualified for Poland/Ukraine quite easily.

So why were we, the fans – and the media – still so unhappy? Apart from being serial moaners of course. Well, because there just seemed to be no engagement from Capello. Again it was the language issue.  After all this time, he still didn’t seem to have gained any fluency. He didn’t seem to be at many Premier League games – he seemed more interested in his art collection. Basically, he showed no respect for English football, or its culture.  Now that culture has its defects, we know.  But the England manager needs to be building on it.  Capello seemed completely detached. Recently we had that great result against Spain in the friendly at Wembley (see my Sportsthoughts (1)). But even then, where was the joy in the managers’s face? He may have been ecstatic. But he couldn’t show it, share the feeling.

England and Fabio Capello. It was a match made in hell. And we all felt so depressed about it.  Just assumed Euro 2012 would be another flop.

And then the split came, four months before the Euros. Ostensibly this must be a bad thing, but why do most of us feel so good?  I think it is because it gives us a bit of hope that the team, inspired by someone who understands and appreciates the culture, the players, their hopes and fears, their motivation, might just inspire them to play to the best of their ability. The last manager who did that was Terry Venables, in Euro 96. Where we went out in the semis, to Germany. A similar fate probably befalls the team in Euro 2012, but if we can see that they have given their all, and just missed out on penalties (again), we’ll feel OK. It’s the sense that the team simply wasn’t a team in South Africa that really galled. The sense of underachievement and not caring. We don’t want that again.

So, we need a motivator. An England manager doesn’t need to teach technique (hopefully) or ensure fitness. The players’ clubs should deliver that. What is needed is vision, strategy, structure and above all the ability to motivate, to engender a team spirit amongst a set of players who all think they are the bees’ knees. We are now in one of our cycles where we think that that means that the manager must be English, so he understand the culture, so that his instructions can’t be misunderstood. I kind of agree with that, though I’d be happy with a foreign manager with Premier League form: Mourinho, or Wenger, or O’Neill. But let’s be realistic, it has to be Harry. It will be by acclamation. He has transformed Spurs.  They are playing the best football in the league. They could still win it.  It is English football: fast, using the wings, Bale supreme, taking risks. But getting the best from the European schemers: Modric, Van der Vaart. Football with a smile on its face. Oh, if that could be England!

When Harry was West Ham manager, I was sceptical. He almost took us down and his tactics at the time seemed to be sling on as many attackers as possible and hope for the best. But he has refined his technique, without losing that joy of attacking football. And now it seems right that he should bring that to the England team. He clearly does get the best out of players, he clearly has a plan and is adaptable as games evolve. We love him.  He is a geezer. With him at the helm in Euro 2012 we will feel good about ourselves.  We won’t win it – Spain, Germany or Holland must be favourites – but if we give a good account of ourselves, play to the max, we’ll be happy. And we’ll do that you never know, we can beat Spain on our day thing.

And you never know….

So, we don’t want to ruin Spurs’ season (well I don’t) so just get Harry involved with Stuart Pearce in the friendly against Holland, and then line him up for the Euros when the Premier League has finished.  If it goes well, make it permanent.  If he decides international football is not for him, let him go back to Spurs…

And send that text to Jose Mourinho!

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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3 Responses to Sportsthoughts (11) – So Farewell Fabio… and ‘allo ‘Arry?

  1. Drew Dadds says:

    Cappello was too good for England. It couldn’t have been easy for him being a super professional, highly intelligent, experienced and successful manager working with the gimps at the FA and in the media. I don’t think it was necessarily the fact that he didn’t have any affection for English football I think he felt that he was dragging English football to somewhere where it didn’t want to go. Professionalism, hard work, discipline and integrity. Cappello is a cultured man and English football isn’t at his level hence the often fractious nature of the relationship. Despite the disaster of the 2010 World Cup, history will show he was the most successful England manager ever. (Lies, damn lies and then there’s statistics).

    Moving on, Harry Redknapp is clearly going to get the job and I wish him all the best of luck, he’ll need it. England are going through a transformation process where most of the team will be gone before the next World Cup and qualifying for it is going to be a experiment in blooding new players and moving the old ones out. Add to that the constant media scrutiny and fickle fans and I wouldn’t blame him if he decided to turn it down. The England job is a poisoned challis, a managers graveyard. A part time job where realistically you can’t do anymore than pick the team and tactics for each match. You only see the squad for a few days every couple of months.

    So if I’m going to throw a few rocks England’s way I might as well offer some ideas on what I think would win England a major tournament. Firstly the structure, The FA and the Premiere league have got to work together, merge if possible. They seem to have opposite priorities with the Premiere league in dominance and club winning over country. Together they need to build a better structure for youth development and a style of football that is consistent as players grow and develop. You see this in Spain, France and Germany and it paid massive rewards. Even Wales have seen success by doing this just look at the players coming out of Cardiff and Swansea’s youth development.

    There needs to be either a winter break or a reduction in the number of teams in the Premiere league. Players go into tournaments tired or broken, the facts speak for themselves. At the last World cup there were 17 major players who missed the tournament due to injury and over half of these played in the Premiere league. Many more went on to either be injured during the tournament or play poorly due to fitness levels.

    The England manager needs to be chosen as a man who can develop the England structure at all levels and not just picking the first team, or appoint a sport scientist as Director of football and not just a former player. AVB, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Joachim Lowe are all great examples of managers who studies sports science and football now is a science, it’s not just about passion and a bull dog spirit to carry you too victory.

    The FA have gone some way to resolving some of these issues, kicking and screaming mind, and that’s the butt of the problem. It took 8 years to build St Georges park and it’ll be many more years before the FA make any other necessary changes to benefit the England team.

    Good luck Harry, fight hard, lose on penalties in the quarter finals and return a hero.

  2. John S says:

    Good analysis Drew. I’m not totally convinced that Capello had a vision for where he was taking us. I think he was stuck in “I’ve been successful in Italy and Spain doing things this way, so I’ll do it here too” mode. Including, for some time, the adherence to 4-4-2. Not that 4-4-2 is bad – in fact it’s telling that teams often resort to it when they need a goal late in a game – but adaptability is important and he seemed to lack it. Ironic perhaps that he quits just as the recent result v Spain suggested a more flexible approach was emerging. Anyway, bring on Harry for the Euros and let’s have a bit of a laugh at the very least!

    (And if not him, how about Ian Holloway and his attack-as-the-best-form-of-defence- because -we’ve -got-no-defence philosophy? Brazil 1970, Blackpool 2011 !)

  3. Drew Dadds says:

    Ian Holloway for England manager! It would be great just for the post match press conference. I remember Ian Wright once talking about who should be Engalnd manager and saying he (Ian Wright) would be rubbish at it as his only tactic would be Attack! Attack! Attack!

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