Viva Capello

The new England manager, Fabio Capello, poses with the team jersey before his first press conference.-AP

Fabio Capello, both as player and coach, has always been a demanding critic of England’s teams, writes Brian Glanville.

And now, Fabio Capello. At over £4 million net of tax per year. And not only Capello, but a complete entourage. A so-called director of football. A goalkeeping coach. A physical condition trainer. The response to his appointment has been decidedly mixed. After his first Press Conference, in which he struggled vainly with the English language but promised he’d learn it in a month, there was a fusillade of Press criticism. The essence of it was that the Football A ssociation, guilty in the recent past of the absurd appointment of the incompetent Steve McClaren, and before that of keeping Sven-Goran Eriksson in office, even paying him so profusely when he had left it, though he had failed so badly in both the World Cup 2002 and European Championship finals, had blundered again.

How much of this criticism was somewhat xenophobic? I speak as one who has known Capello as player and coach for some 35 years and who believes with certain reservations that the appointment is a good one. But to those who deplore the appointment of a foreigner as the England manager, I would simply ask, what English alternative would they suggest?

I myself can think only of two. One is Trevor Brooking, once a star playmaker for West Ham and England, now one of the two FA executives, the inadequate Brian Barwick, chief executive, being the other, who have chosen Capello, though it is none too certain that Brooking was enthused. Trevor however doesn’t want the job, though in a brief spell when he managed his one and only club, West Ham United, he very much looked the part. The other alternative? Steve Coppell.

I was all in favour of appointing the Reading manager before, in his ineptitude, Barwick, having failed to recruit Portugal’s Brazilian manager, Big Phil Scolari, plumped for McClaren, before even a ball was kicked in the 2006 World Cup finals. Steve was an excellent England footballer, a tireless outside-right whose playing career, alas came to a bitter and premature end at the age of 28, after being kicked on the knee by a Hungarian at Wembley. Subsequently he has had several spells at Crystal Palace, which included reaching as underdogs the FA Cup Final and holding Manchester United’s powerful team to a draw in the first game, an unhappy and brief sojourn at Manchester City when personal problems seem to have driven him into resignation, some time at humble Brentford in West London, and then success at Reading. Guiding the Berkshire club into the top division for the first time in their 100-year history and keeping them there. He has recently said he needs a rest from management.

But Steve, who has an economics degree from Liverpool University and is a Liverpudlian who Manchester United snatched from Tranmere Rovers, would for me, with his intelligence and tactical good sense, indeed be a good choice for the England role. Failing these two, however, what other English manager has any serious claims?

Capello, both as player and coach, has always been a demanding critic of England’s teams. In June 1973 in Turin, he scored a somewhat controversial second goal in Italy’s 2-0 victory, their first-ever against England, after 40 years. Afterwards, he told me he thought the English tactics were too mechanical, that it took the team too long to get into positions where crosses could be made, that England lacked a Terry Cooper, a winger (actually an overlapping left-back) who could beat his man and put the ball across; and a Bobby Charlton, who could spread the ball about. And as we know, after England had so supinely lost to Holland in the European Finals of 1988 in West Germany he told me he was “amazed” by the lack of reaction, of rabbie (rage) in an England team which was facing defeat.

His massively attended first Press Conference featured a young interpreter who, according to some critics, was not up to scratch. Which reminded me of the odd experience I had myself as Capello’s interpreter (gratis) when Arsenal twice played Milan, then managed by him, in European ties. At Highbury all went well enough.

But when I arrived at San Siro for the return, I was told to my amazement that there was no ticket for me and the Sunday Times, though we had certainly applied and I myself had confirmed by phone. A jumped up young jackanapes of a Milan Press Officer, however, refused to let me in. “I know you are a friend of our manager,” he said, “I know that you interpreted his Press Conference in London, but I cannot let you in.”

After long wrangling, he at last ungraciously allowed me to enter. After the match, an elderly Italian lady tried in vain to interpret for George Graham, Arsenal’s manager, and his strong Scottish accent. Upon the dais, Herr Rothenbuhler, the UEFA Press chief, gave me a pleading look. So I went up to the dais and interpreted both for George and Capello. Having the satisfaction of a word with the Press officer, afterwards.

The Roman daily, Corriere Dello Sport, published a wry account of the incident, concluding with the words, “So there is one person in Italian football who doesn’t know who Brian Glanville is; but he must be the only one.” Adding in italics and in English, “I suppose.” But the Press officer had his petty revenge. The next time an English club played at San Siro, the Sunday Times’ request was turned down.

Another memory of Capello. Slightly uncomfortable, this time. During the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany when Italy were due to meet Argentina in Stuttgart, Enzo Bearzot, later a World Cup winner, then Italy’s second coach, usually a shrewd observer, had a look at Argentina and decided that their quick, clever little left-winger, Rene Houseman, was a midfield player.

So Italy marked him with Capello, a natural inside-forward, forced to operate at right-back and played off the park; till manager Ferruccio Valcareggi took pity on him and switched him.

Meanwhile, questions persist. Why does an international team, playing only sporadically, need a fitness coach; when every club has one? Why a goalkeeping coach, even if it be an old acquaintance in ex-Roma and Italy?