Diminished expectations is Capello's legacy

No one expects England to sweep aside Spain or Germany or Holland or Italy these days. English football has had a cold, sharp shock of realism under Fabio Capello, much of it brought about by its shambolic World Cup performance in South Africa 18 months ago. By Frank Malley.

Fabio Capello has accomplished in four years what a whole line of England football managers spanning almost half a century failed to achieve.

He has successfully lowered the unrealistic expectations which England have carried into just about every major tournament since 1966. He has ensured that when England fly to Poland and Ukraine in the summer they will not be accompanied by blind jingoistic notions suggesting they are favourites to return with the European Championship trophy.

No one expects them to sweep aside Spain or Germany or Holland or Italy these days. English football has had a cold, sharp shock of realism under Capello, much of it brought about by their shambolic World Cup performance in South Africa 18 months ago.

However, when Capello marks four years since his first match in charge, a drab 2-1 win against Switzerland at Wembley in February 2008, there is one thing you cannot take away from the Italian.

Right now, statistically, he is the most successful England manager of all time. Yes, I know that might be hard to believe for anyone who witnessed the dismal draws against Montenegro in qualifying for Euro 2012 and the World Cup humiliation by Germany in Bloemfontein.

Yet, it is true. Capello's 66.7% win ratio from 42 matches, of which he has won 28, drawn eight and lost six, makes him by some distance England's top boss.

Sir Alf Ramsey managed only a 61.1% win ratio, Sir Bobby Robson just 49.5% while Sven-Goran Eriksson's win ratio was 59.7% and Glenn Hoddle's 60.7%.

Percentages, of course, are for anoraks. Statistics can lie.

The more pertinent question is: Are England any more likely to win the big matches at the major tournaments than they were before the Football Association decided to go foreign once more and hand Capello £6m-a-year?

Going by the experience of South Africa they are not. Yet, that was 18 months ago and, to give Capello credit, he has shown signs of having learnt from that fiasco.

At last the penny appears to have dropped that the football world has moved on. That Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Holland are playing football at pace with breathtaking movement. Football of vision where possession is treasured.

To be fair to Capello he recognised England's greatest flaw was their inability to keep the ball immediately after that debut match against Switzerland. He just never quite convinced his technically inefficient players. He continued to select the limited Emile Heskey, stuck with an out-dated and rigid 4-4-2 system, continued to waste Steven Gerrard on the left side of midfield and took an unfit Ledley King to the World Cup where the manager's military-style regime proved divisive.

Capello has made mistakes all right. Lots of them. He has also been hampered by England football's off-the-field penchant for self-destruction highlighted by the stripping of the captaincy from John Terry following the Wayne Bridge affair.

Even now there are calls for the reinstated Terry to stand down from the captaincy until the conclusion later this year of his court case in which he denies racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.

Managing England is certainly a complex cocktail and those who believe a passionate Englishman at the helm is the answer should remember Kevin Keegan's 38.9% win ratio. The right man, as in all the top jobs, is the best man.

It would be wrong also to ignore encouraging signs under Capello. One is the emergence of Joe Hart as number one goalkeeper. Another the solidity brought by Scott Parker in midfield.

Most encouraging is Capello's belated acceptance that a slavish 4-4-2 formation is not the way forward, instead favouring pace, youth and fluidity. Will it be good enough to beat Spain and Germany and the rest of Europe's elite?

It is doubtful. That would bring disappointment but no real surprise. England no longer expects. Forget the glowing statistics. That, more than anything, is the measure of Capello's failure.

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