Fabio Capello was confirmed as the next manager of the English national football team on Friday. The English FA announced that the Italian has signed a contract for four and a half years, with reports suggesting his salary to be around £6 million a year. He replaces Steve McClaren, who earned £2.5 million a year and was sacked three weeks ago after failing to lead his team to Euro 2008.
Capello has one of the finest club football pedigrees in the world. His first managerial job was with AC Milan in the early 90s, where he built a team that is often considered among the best club sides ever assembled. They won Serie A four times in five years, and are fondly remembered by neutral fans for their comprehensive 4-0 victory over a strong Barcelona side in the 1994 Champions League Final. Capello then left to join Real Madrid, where he won the Primera Liga at his first attempt, before returning to Italy.
In 1999 he moved to Roma, and he brought them their first success in a decade when they won the league in 2001. His following years were not so successful, before he moved to Juventus in 2004 and won Serie A with them twice in succession. (It should be noted that these two titles have now been stripped from Juventus due to the match-fixing scandal uncovered last year). In 2006 he returned to Real Madrid, and despite opposition from fans who disliked his defensive style, he again won them the Spanish title. He now joins England, his first ever international appointment, having left Real in June.
While on first glance the appointment of one of world football’s most successful bosses represents a huge coup for the English FA, fans would be wise to be wary of two things. Firstly, international football is fairly different from club football, and requires different talents. This applies to players as well as managers: there’s an endless list of players who excelled for their clubs and flopped for their country, and vice versa. International football doesn’t allow managers to buy their way out of trouble; Capello is stuck with a pool of around 50 potential England players and must rely on the clubs to develop new players for that pool. Instead of working with the players every day in training, Capello will only have a few days before each game to work on set-pieces, tactics and team cohesion, and there are usually several weeks or months between games. More so than in club football, the international game relies on personal skills of man-management to get players in the right frame-of-mind for individual matches. Capello’s personal skills are frequently criticised: he has fallen out with players at every club he’s managed.
Secondly, Capello has a very poor grip of the English language. In an earlier piece, I said that the English FA must hire a man “who can… communicate his tactical instructions clearly to his array of top players”. Rafa Benitez agrees that the language barrier can cause real problems. How can players play to a disciplined tactical system when they don’t understand their instructions? How can a half-time team-talk be inspirational when it is incomprehensible? Capello says he will bring an Englishman into his staff to help with translation, but plenty of meaning can be lost from a second-hand speech.
England must also look at why they are not developing enough talented managers of their own, as Paul Ince has noted. A major footballing nation with such an infrastructure, such riches, and such passion for the game should have a queue of suitable bosses lining up for their top job.
In the meantime, England fans can only speculate about how Capello will do. He doesn’t officially start the job until January 7th, and faces his first test in a home friendly against Switzerland a month later. Capello has spent his career gathering top credentials in club football; now he faces the challenge of living up to those credentials, in a different country, and in a slightly different context.