Fabio Capello at the Cambridge Union Society

28 February 2013

Former England manager Fabio Capello appeared before the Cambridge Union Society last Friday to discuss his distinguished career in football. Capello conveyed the sort of eloquence and gravitas that has defined his twenty-five years at the highest echelons of football management. Indeed, his famed impatience was evident on a number of occasions, as he broke into faltering English to compensate for the translator’s limited understanding of tactical minutiae and footballers’ names.

Understandably, much of the discourse focused on Capello’s five year spell as coach of the national team. England’s tumultuous time in South Africa 2010 was attributed to a combination of fatigue and poor luck, which, he claimed, came to its head in the 4-1 defeat against Germany. Capello suggested that English culture’s enshrinement of football over the Christmas period hampered the team against the Germans, who have a mid-season break instead. If this seemed like a obstinate evasion of the team’s tactical deficiencies, then his assertion that England would have won the game had Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’ not been disallowed was outright excuse-making. Curiously, not one question was asked about Capello’s defence of John Terry in the racism scandal, which led to his resignation last February.

Reflecting on his greatest managerial successes, Capello picked AC Milan’s 4-0 Champions League triumph in 1994 and Real Madrid’s title success 2007, when Los Blancos successfully overhauled a nine point deficit in the space of twelve games. To give hope to fans of European football, both victories were at the expense of great Barcelona sides. Indeed, in the aftermath of AC Milan’s 2-0 home victory in midweek, he suggested that the current Barca side were devoid of attacking threat if one can negate their imaginative players, namely Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi.

Throughout his appearance, Capello emphasised that tactical systems were comparatively insignificant to the importance of having talented individuals. He suggested that personality was a crucial trait, which gives the best the ability to play above even their own high levels of performance when needed. The Italian’s emphasis on personalities is curious given that England’s 2010 World Cup campaign was marred by reports of senior players overruling the coach. Though no mention of this was made explicit, he gave indication that the triumvirate of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard all had “big personalities” which made them important players. On England’s current prospects, he saw the same fearless quality in Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere. Conversely, Capello was quick to dismiss the likes of Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano as “unmanageable”, citing their reluctance to adhere to tactical instructions as a prohibitive failing.

As questions were opened up to the floor, it became increasingly clear that Capello was wary of saying anything controversial. Unfortunately, the questions offered too many opportunities to defend his, frankly disappointing, spell in charge of England. Certainly, he was evasive and difficult at times, but it is a shame that for the most part, such a knowledgeable guest was not given a chance to thoroughly discuss his views on the state of football today, and his philosophy on the art of football management.

Felix de Grey

Photo Credit: John Jarman