Fabio Capello has resigned as manager of the English National team. After four years in charge of the three lions, the Italian was undone by the John Terry affair. Having come to the defense of his captain in an interview with Italian TV over the weekend, Capello walked into a prescheduled meeting at Wembley with the FA chairman David Bernstein and general secretary Alex Horne walking out without speaking to media leaving the FA to announce the sudden news.
In an October league encounter at Loftus Road between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea, John Terry directed some racially inflammatory language towards QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, the younger brother of Manchester United and England central defender Rio Ferdinand.
After an investigation into the matter, the Crown prosecution service charged Terry with using racist language, oddly scheduling Terry to face a London court in July, after the conclusion of the European championships being contested in Poland and the Ukraine this summer. Last week, the FA responded to the latest developments by stripping Terry of the England captaincy without consulting Capello.
Aside from trampling over the "innocent until proven guilty" principle of the English legal system, the FA, in first going over Capello’s head and secondly,publicly airing their disappointment with the manager’s defense of Terry, essentially sacked him, revealing the cultural rift which plagued this relationship.
The next England manager— and the early favorite is Tottenham headman Harry Rednapp—faces the task of preparing the Lions for the continental tournament in four months' time. They will also face the task of naming a new captain in the polluted atmosphere that trails the Terry affair.
The English Exception
That England’s football supporters, media and officials demand success from their national side in international tournaments is not radically different to similar football mad countries of continental Europe and South America. What distinguishes the English is their special connection to the sport as its birthplace and the hysterical culture that’s evolved around the game.
If this wasn’t the case, then why would Capello and the FA come to this confrontational juncture and untimely departure? The wave of opinions now calling for England’s next manager to be English thinly disguises the discomfort many lived with over the past four years and before that, when Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson manned the touchline from 2001 to 2006.
It’s always a reluctant partnership when a foreigner mans the helm of England’s most precious resource.
Clearly there was a tension simmering below the surface before things reached their conclusion at the Wembley meeting. No one was happy with England’s performance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The squad scored two goals in the group stage, squeaking by in a group they were expected to dominate.
The round of 16 match up with Germany turned, unfavorably for the English, on a Frank Lampard goal that wasn’t ruled as such by the referees, even though it clearly crossed the goal line. 4-1 was the final, and England was sent home early yet again.
Some calls came then to let Capello go. Criticism, ironically enough, from the players was attributed to John Terry. But coach and captain patched their differences up in short order and, before Inter Milan could lure Capello away, the FA reiterated their “trust” in the Italian until after Euro 2012.
Subsequently, the English cruised through their qualification group for the Euros, not losing a game and qualifying automatically as group winners for Poland/Ukraine.
It should be noted also that England’s .667 win percentage over Capello’s 42 games in charge was the highest of any national team manager. Higher than Ron Greenwood, than Don Revie, than Terry Venables and Graham Taylor, all who managed a similar number of games.
Amongst the 28 wins under Capello’s stewardship were the undefeated Euro 2012 campaign, a one-loss World Cup qualification campaign, the first loss for Germany in Berlin in 35 years and two successive friendly victories over Spain and Sweden to finish 2011. The six losses under Capello: France (twice), Spain, Brazil, Ukraine and Germany.
But Capello’s record never mattered. Nor did his tactics, though critics would have firmer ground to stand on there. None of this mattered when the scrutiny and handling applied to a foreign manager in England reveals an inherent bias that’s perhaps only visible to those outside the motherland of football. Now that Capello is gone, the English press has fully aired their grievances, and they’re reflective of a large segment of the sporting public.
They note Capello’s fine art collection and his limited English language skills as alienating traits. When he employed rigidity in the team’s pre-World Cup camp, it was cited as a source of tension amongst the squad despite leniency and a lack of discipline being issues with previous tournament failures.
His touchline demeanor was labeled as stoic, the perception being that he lacked the fire to rally the troops when they were up against it in South Africa. Similar criticisms were leveled at Eriksson during his tenure as national manager.
Not being English, Capello and Eriksson could never understand their game and thusly could never unlock the full potential of the men under their guise. There are also latent concerns about the erosion of national sovereignty, which has come to define England (and Britain’s) at-an-arms-length partnership with Europe.
This manifested itself through the terraces, to the rabid newsrooms and through Wembley into a fundamental lack of respect towards a professionally-accomplished coach. Whether or not Terry merited wearing the armband for England is a debate for another discussion; the move by the FA to leave Capello with not so much as a text message before announcing the move was extraordinary and dismissive of any manager’s authority.
One of their own
Of course, England has every right to name one of their own as national team manager. Even in the age of globalized football, these antiquated, somewhat nationalistic, philosophies have an audience. What seems odd is the notion that the manager must be English in the nation that should be credited with globalizing the game more than any other.
England is, after all, the home of the premier league, which, in the last twenty-five years, has become the richest, arguably most competitive and certainly the most commercially successful league in the world.
The growth of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, their transformation from regional clubs into global brands, occurred simultaneous to and in direct correlation with an influx of foreign talent into the English game.
The attractive and attacking style so synonymous with English football is as easily transferable on top talent from Europe, South America and Africa as it is marketable to a global audience. The same can’t be said of Europe’s other top leagues, which continue to this day to be remarkably homogeneous in their makeup in comparison to the premiership.
Even the smaller premier league outfits are littered with French, African, and Eastern European players, a similarly-sized club in Spain or Italy likely contains a larger majority of native players and coaching staff.
Currently only three clubs in the Premier League are managed by Englishmen (one less if Rednapp leaves Spurs for the England job). Foreign ownership of clubs is a growing trend; the influx of capital from a Russian oil magnate several years ago preceded Chelsea’s successful title runs. This year, with recent beneficiaries of new owners from Abu Dhabi, Manchester City tops the league table after 24 fixtures.
Foreigner players and managers have become so ingrained in the English game it’s hard to distinguish if in practice an “English” style even exists anymore. Long gone are the "bash it forward 40 yards" days. English players have evolved, gleaning technique and tactics from the continent, to go with their physical and aggressive style of play.
That’s why all present noise referring to the necessity for the FA to go native with their next move makes little sense from a footballing perspective. Surely Arsene Wenger would likely be an effective England manager, as would Sir Alex Ferguson. Both men would likely be immensely popular picks as well.
I’m not sure how attractive the job looks to them after the events of the last few weeks. The FA did little to conceal their moral authoritarianism. Four months before the opening Euro group match against France in Donetsk, England faces an unwelcome void at manager but it was one of their own making.