Capello out of his depth?

England’s manager Fabio Capello (standing) watches the proceedings during England’s international friendly match against France.-AP England’s manager Fabio Capello (standing) watches the proceedings during England’s international friendly match against France.

International management can be a very lonely job and at least Fabio Capello, bringing in a regiment of Italian support for his swollen entourage, should not suffer from that. But the Beckham affair has a resonance, an alarming significance, which goes far beyond a single player and a single game, writes Brian Glanville.

Never did I think I would be writing such a critique. Fabio Capello, whom I’d known, liked and admired for so many years, first as player, then as manager, as England manager, already looks a potential disaster. It was bad and ominous enough that, as we well know, he should have sent his sidekick on an 11000-mile trip to watch Beckham in a friendly. But worse in Paris was to follow. Yes, the whole football world knew that Beckham had his tongue hanging out for his surely undeserved 100th cap. So one assumed he would be used against France for what might be called a symbolic, short portion of the game. Not least when, in Blackburn’s David Bentley, England had one of the most-gifted and effective right-flank players in the whole of Europe.

But what, in the event, happened. First, Beckham rather than Bentley started the game. Very well, you might have thought, he would be given his token 10 minutes or so, then taken off to ringing applause, that 100th cap now in his possession. Not a bit of it. Beckham, slower than ever, capable of just one major thing, the use of his elegant right-foot to curl in insidious free-kicks and crosses, stayed on the field to the exclusion of Bentley for 63 whole, mediocre minutes. By which time France had long since gained a grip on a game they would win, it is true, only on a penalty; though the 1-0 score was exceedingly kind to England.

Afterwards, Capello indulged in what could only be described as fluent nonsense. “I’m very happy about David Beckham,” he burbled. “He played like I know he can play. I only substituted him because I wanted to see other players.” Consider that. Wanted to see other players. Wanted, one must assume, to see a David Bentley whom he had had every opportunity to see and appreciate for weeks past. The absurd implication being that Beckham was still the rightful incumbent of the England right-wing, whereas Bentley has still to prove himself. In other words, a very severe and dangerous case of Beckhamitis. Sheer logic turned on its head.

This, however, though by far the most serious blunder by Capello, was by no means the only one. The choice of Manchester United’s ever-vulnerable Wes Brown at right-back proved as mistaken and costly as it promised to be.

But, given the bizarre nonsense Capello came out with the day after the debacle in Paris, perhaps one should not marvel at his erratic choice. He seemed on the face of it to be drawing a weird comparison between Beckham and his dazzling, super, versatile successor on the Manchester United right-wing, Cristiano Ronaldo. True, there were certain negative aspects of England’s display in Paris for which you could hardly blame Capello. The strange irrelevance on the left-flank of Joe Cole who has been playing so well for Chelsea. The latest blunder in goal by David “Calamity” James, giving away another of his penalties against France when miscalculating his dive at the feet of Nicolas Anelka. From which France got the winner. Shades of the European Championship finals in Portugal four years ago when James gave away that other penalty against the French.

Three days later at Portsmouth I saw him put on a coruscating display for the home team against Wigan, making a spectacular save from a penalty and others besides winning applause from his manager Harry Redknapp, who thinks he’s a major star, and even from the excellent opposing ’keeper, Chris Kirkland. But James is James and he, alas, has had other, still more disastrous, games for England, notably in Vienna and Copenhagen.

But then there was the question of tactics. Playing Wayne Rooney up front on his own was destined to be a failure. He has never liked doing so for England. Put him up there for Manchester United, however, and dazzling support surges around him. Using Steve Gerrard “in the hole,” as they say, just being the front runner, was another plain mistake, even if that is where his own club Liverpool are now deploying him. It will never be the ideal role for Gerrard as was made all too plain at the end of last season when Liverpool used him there in the European Cup Final against Milan, which they lost. Ideally, Gerrard wants to play in the centre of midfield, whence he can surge forward in attack, making frequent use of his powerful, right-footed shot.

How then to account for Capello’s strange Beckhamite aberration, and such other errors as he made in Paris. I am forced to fear that, while he has had so much success as a club manager with Milan, Roma and Real Madrid, barring one unhappy season at Milan, he may be essentially a club manager who finds the transition to international football too much for him. For, beyond doubt, it is a very different game, all the less easy to adapt to for a club manager who will have all his fit players available to him every day of the week, and can shuffle the pack tactically as he wishes, secure in the knowledge that he knows exactly what and whom he has at his disposal.

Capello would be neither the first nor the last of successful club managers who surprisingly fail to make the transition. Remember the sad case of Don Revie who had transformed Leeds United from a second rate club with a struggling team into one of the most powerful and successful in Europe. He had over his players an absolute dominance; an inspirational force. Yet, once he took over as the England coach in 1974, it was another, wholly different and depressing story.

His well-known anxieties and superstitions seemed to consume him. His tactics were as strange as those of Capello in Paris. The players derided his pre-match “preparations” of carpet bowls, and the presentation of dossiers on the opposition which they stubbornly used as the place to write their playing card scores!

International management can be a very lonely job and at least Capello, bringing in a regiment of Italian support for his swollen entourage, should not suffer from that. But the Beckham affair has a resonance, an alarming significance, which goes far beyond a single player and a single game. If Capello can get things so stubbornly, even farcically, wrong, and try to justify them in the aftermath, what hope can there be for him and for the England team?

Now Capello is in trouble galore in Italy. First, accused of massive tax evasion though the word is that he can pay his way out of that. Now accused in court of withholding the truth about his role, alleged, in the referee bribing scandal which surrounds the ineffable Luciano Moggi, ex-kingpin at Juventus where Capello, of course, was manager. Capello says he just doesn’t remember. The prosecution insists that isn’t good enough; and there is talk of potential prison.

Here the Football Association says it isn’t worried; but who gives credence or significance to whatever statements come out of Soho Square especially when Italian law is involved? Meanwhile David Bentley has publicly expressed his disappointment of what so flaccidly went on in Paris. Who could blame him?