If you're in your sixties, life has probably begun to roll gently downhill. Retirement is around the corner, your hair is thinner than ever, and any kids you have spawned have long since flown the nest. These early autumn years should be a time to relax and get out of life what you put in for so many years with the blissful knowledge that the daily grind is almost over.
So as the search for the next England manager continues to rumble on, it seems strange that 61-year-old Fabio Capello looks set to enter into the manic world of the biggest job in football.
For a man who is no stranger to high profile jobs or success to consider a position that has damaged reputations and careers seems madness. Capello’s resume exhibits an impressive array of domestic silverware. In 16 years of club management he has won seven Scudettos, two La Liga titles, and a Champions League trophy—a success rate that is rivalled by very few.
Having proven himself at the highest level of European club football both as a player and a manager, is it wise to take on a job that has defeated all who have tried since 1966?
After being in charge of Juventus, Roma, and Real Madrid and AC Milan twice, it is fair to say high profile is very much a part of Capello’s footballing DNA, a trait that lends itself to the role of England manager. However it is the nature of the expectation that Capello may find overwhelming. Of course he will be used to expectation having managed in Madrid, Milan, and Turin because of the illustrious history of success that those teams have displayed, but with England it is the misguided expectation that could be harder to manage.
England have not reached a final of a major tournament since 1966 and in that time have failed to qualify for six tournaments, yet many, including players, supporters, and the English media in particular, maintain the national side are a footballing superpower with title aspirations. Capello’s first challenge will be reign in the over inflated opinion that England are a quality team. Within this challenge come a number of other hurdles that need facing.
International football management usually involves handling some great players, and with great players come great egos. Capello will be used to dealing with international superstars and the hype that follows them, having worked with Francesco Totti, Ronaldo, and David Beckham. It is this experience that could prove vital when it comes to creating a winning team.
The cause of England’s failure to succeed has been put down to many things, but most recently player enthusiasm has come under much scrutiny. Against Croatia in the final qualification game anything but a loss would have seen the side progress, but an apparent lack of motivation and team work was evident from the opening minutes. The same lack in motivation and fluidity seemed to dog the team in Germany in the 2006 World Cup.
Capello will find he needs to tackle the individualistic pursuit of glory that some players seem to exhibit and turn it into a flowing team performance. Taking control of the changing room and showing that he is the boss is the key. England’s previous two managers, Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McLaren, never seemed to be able to prevent the players playing for themselves instead of the team, with alleged dressing room unrest and a number of outspoken autobiographies as just a couple of issues.
In order to make the players see that he means business, he will have to shake up the squad by introducing new faces and removing those who simply haven’t performed. He has the strength of character to drop star players but also the humility to recall them when he feels he needs them, perfectly illustrated by his treatment of Beckham in last year’s race for the Spanish League title.
He also has the advantage of being entirely new to English football. Like Sven Goran Eriksson did when he took charge, Capello can take a fresh look at the talent available to him and bring in players on form and not those who are there because they always have been.
The England job is the hardest in football and it is unsurprising that so many are quick to count themselves out, but in the aftermath of McLaren’s sorry exit Capello was quick to show his interest.
Why would a man who could retire happily and watch younger men like McLaren fail want to step in? The simple truth is Capello is everything McLaren wasn’t.
His age only translates to experience and wisdom, which is in turn transformed into respect. Even the most egotistical player in the England squad would struggle not to feel intimidated when entering a dressing room for the first time to train or play under Capello. Even his supposed lack of English language skills cannot stop his squad knowing and understanding where he has been, what he has achieved and where he wants to take them, his record translates in any language. He does not want to be their friend he just wants to do his job in his own way. He is used to the big stage and getting the performance he needs from his players at the right time, something McLaren was never able to do.
What is more, he is a man who not only wants the job but would enter into it knowing he has nothing to prove and nothing to lose. With 61 years behind him and a stack of medals in his trophy cabinet he is entirely ready for the job.
In the past, the FA have appointed young visionaries, established pragmatists, foreign strategists, and feeble yes-men and all have failed to deliver. Now it seems they are looking to turn to someone whose age only works in his favor, whose ruthlessness is a blessing, and whose success demands the utmost respect.
When most men his age are taking their foot off the pedal, Capello is shifting up a gear and pulling into the fast lane with plenty left in the tank. With an attitude like this England’s team may yet enjoy that sixties spirit once again.