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!