So it is that the love affair between the British press and the Italian comes to an end. England’s friendly match against Hungary last week was what it was – a team in transition playing a mediocre team in a pre-season friendly match – but there was no way that Capello could “win” this match, especially after his response to a leading question over the future of Sir David of Beckham. The press were looking for a reason to stick the knife into Capello and twist it and this question coupled with his answer to it gave them all the ammunition that they needed, although no-one has yet indicated the real reason why this may be.
In The Daily Mail, for example, Piers Morgan confidently stated that he, “wrote after the disastrous World Cup that Capello should have been fired and nothing I’ve seen since has changed my mind”. Quite what anybody might have seen since the World Cup that would have changed their mind considering that almost nothing has happened since the World Cup apart from the “retirement” of several fringe players is anybody’s guess, and more intriguing is the question of, if Piers Morgan is such a soothsayer on such matters, why he didn’t call for the resignation of Fabio Capello before the tournament started, but that is a question that could well be asked of almost the entire British sporting press at the moment.
Meanwhile, in the same paper, Patrick Collins stated that, “This is the way that England treats its coaches, with fatuous expectation and poisonous condemnation”, all of which is true, if somewhat undermined by the fact that a considerable amount of the “fatuous expectation and poisonous condemnation” comes from those working for his employers and others like them. Other newspapers have been calling in others to say what, one suspects, they would like to say themselves. The Sun managed, in their own eminiently imitable style, to turn Sven Goran Eriksson saying:
“Beckham deserves all the respect you can give to him. When he gets fit, he is still a very good football player. If it is somebody with 20, 30, 40, 50 caps then, yes, you have to speak to him before dropping him. I would do it myself, I did it many times – David Seaman was one. If a player is good enough, yes, why not play him?”
Into the sensationalist headline, “Sven: Show Becks Respect” (which the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have noted isn’t quite what Eriksson said), whilst The Mirror asked Beckham’s friend Gary Neville what he thought and received a similarly unsurprising reply, although Neville did at least temper his comments by adding that, “the introduction of young players in the second-half was good to see”. The unwritten message is clear – it’s open season on Capello, and nobody wants to be seen to be propping up this particular dead duck.
The British press are the British press, though, and to expect anything like high standards from them these days is always likely to be a fruitless endeavour. The FA’s involvement in the matter, in the form of “Club England” (whatever the hell that is supposed to be) managing director, Adrian Bevington, stating to BBC Radio Five Live that, “I think the English team should be managed by an English manager”. It is unsurprising that any organisation with neither a Chief Executive or a Chairman (with the loss of the former being primarily the fault of the Premier League and the loss of the latter latter the fault of the taboid press) should be hopelessly rudderless, but it seems extraordinary that anyone in the FA should be discussing the nationality of the next England manager when the present incumbent has two years left to run on his contract.
It feels as if even the FA is already pre-emptively trying to distance themselves from Capello. Bevington states that, “A lot of people have a very different view of Fabio to the one they had before the World Cup”, without fully explaining what he means by such a statement. It seems unlikely that Capello has somehow become a worse coach than he was, say, six months ago, so what exactly has changed in perceptions of him? Some of the perceived shortcomings of his time in charge of the team, such as the issues over his command of English, were well known before the tournament, whilst others, such as his insistence on tight discipline within the England camp, were painted as virtues throughout the qualifying campaign, after all.
We could pinpoint the time of the start of the reversal of his fortunes with the press to the 8th of June, when Capello turned his ire upon photographers at the England hotel that were pointing their telephoto lenses through the windows of the hotel. Alternatively, we could look to England’s less than inspiring performances in the competition, though there was nothing particularly surprising about what happened to them at the World Cup – squeezing through a group that was more difficult than anybody in the British press was ever going to admit, considering the embarrassing bravado with which the draw itself had been met in when it was made, before losing to better opposition. The effect, no matter what the cause, has been tangible. It now feels as if there is a systematic campaign to get Capello out as the England manager.
As for the matter of whether the new England manager has to (or even should) be English or not, the obvious thing to say is that it is stupid to even consider at this stage what the nationality of the next manager should be. For one thing, unless Capello is sacked or resigns, a replacement will not be required for two years. Quite aside from this, are the FA seriously suggesting that they would pick, say, Harry Redknapp or Roy Hodgson over, say, Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger on the basis of their nationality alone? Because if this is the case, the only thing that such a statement confirms is that Adrian Bevington should be allowed nowhere the process for selecting the next England coach.
And so it is that the “debate” over the future of the England team is dragged into the gutter again. There was a window of opportunity for the shortcomings of English football – the over-reliance on “heart” and “courage” to the detriment of so many other factors, the lack of proper investment in a youth system that teaches young players to be able to perform the most rudimentary of skills from a young age or any sort of positional intelligence, the fact that, actually, England aren’t as good as many people seem to think they have an automatic right to be and haven’t been for many, many years – to be discussed and set straight. This, however, now seems to have passed, to be replaced with a facile debate over how someone should find out that he is excess to requirements (and in football there is no moral bottom to how low this can be done, historically speaking), whether the coach “has lost” or “is losing the dressing room” and what nationality the coach should be.
We saw with our own eyes during the summer that England weren’t good enough to come anywhere near to challenging for the World Cup, and the decision can either be made to do nothing about it, accept this state of affairs and temper expectations accordingly or to face up to the need for actual, meaningful reform of the game in England and the way that it is run from the top to the bottom with all of the costs that these may incur. Ultimately, there doesn’t seem to be any will for the latter to happen, so we had better all get on with the former. We can bet a pound to a penny that the press will not even stop to consider their disruptive role should England crash and burn for the second European Championships in a row. The FA, meanwhile, need to either stand by their manager unreservedly or replace him, no matter how stupid that decision may or may not be. It has long started to feel as if they all deserve each other.