Ringmaster: No nonsense as focused Capello sets his sights on World Cup
12 August 2009 10:01
Fabio Capello admitted to certain limitations on Tuesday. 'I can't clone Steven Gerrard,' he said and for those who were starting to consider the England manager capable of anything, that might come as a bit of a disappointment.
But Capello offered us another fascinating insight into the workings of his football mind at the Amsterdam Hilton, the answer to one question in particular revealing much about the man.
Prompted by yet another interview Manuel Almunia has given in a clear attempt to attract Capello's attention, the Italian was asked if he would consider the Arsenal goalkeeper, should he soon acquire British citizenship.
'Almunia, for me, is Spanish,' he said.
'He's Spanish and he plays for the Arsenal team.'
It was a drive-by shooting of a response. Brutal in its execution and not exactly in the 'peace and love' spirit of two former hotel residents.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono would not have been terribly impressed and Almunia must now be feeling like he has just been crushed by a raging Pamplona bull.
For Capello, however, there has never been room for sentiment. Even less so at the start of a season that will end with the first, and probably only, World Cup of a long and distinguished managerial career.
Confidence oozing from every Italian pore, he delivered his manifesto for the next 11 months with real finesse. He was relaxed enough to reveal his team for this evening's friendly against a Dutch side that should provide England with an interesting test.
Ashley Young for the injured Gerrard; David Beckham for Theo Walcott, should the young Arsenal winger in all probability miss out; Carlton Cole alongside Wayne Rooney, should Emile Heskey suffer a reaction to a full training session on Monday night.
But there was also a sense that the serious business has begun. That, after 18 months in the job, Capello is beginning to focus firmly on South Africa. The confidence in the team has been restored and now it is a case of fine-tuning.
One reporter dared assume that he must have no idea who will be keeping goal for England come next June.
'You think so?' he said, fixing his inquisitor with the kind of gaze that suggested he does indeed possess a Ferguson-style hairdryer in his armoury. 'I know who it will be.'
If he knows already, it has to be David James, given how little knowledge he has of the Portsmouth goalkeeper's understudies. Injury has kept James away from Amsterdam but the 39- year-old has started all but two of Capello's games.
While Capello can be less certain of all 23 names he will take to South Africa - assuming his side secure three points from their remaining three qualifiers - he does know where he wants to see improvement over the course of the next 10 months.
He said: 'Right now we have to look to an important game against Croatia next month. We have just two days together here but we must recover the spirit of the group, to start some movement with the ball that we did during the performances last season.
'I have to improve different situations. Because, sometimes, we play 20 minutes very well. Sometimes we sleep a little bit. At other times, we don't play with the same aggression at the same moments.
'We have to play 90 minutes like these 20 minutes we play. That's a really important step. It's about consistency in performance, but I believe we can do this.
'But, also, I think it is about the opponents. We are a really good team who must play with our style. But sometimes we play against really important teams. So we have to play with intelligence.'
As ever, he will select on form rather than reputation. 'I will watch a lot of games,' he said, delivering a very clear message to his subjects.
'I will watch three or four games a week, as I did last season, because I want to be sure.
'There's a lot for the players to play for and, as I said, the door is open for every player who plays well during the season.'
The door is still open, he insists, for Michael Owen, even if it remains to be seen if a few decent displays for Manchester United will secure the striker's return to the international ranks.
Capello seemed intent on giving youth a chance. Young excites him as much as the probable loss of Walcott frustrates him and while the absence of the Arsenal flyer would see Beckham start against the Dutch, the emphasis remains on pace.
'Ashley Young is really important because he's one of the English players who can dribble and take people on one-to-one,' he said.
'This is very important.'
Important is a word he uses an awful lot, perhaps because his English remains a little limited. But for Capello it is all about what is important.
About cutting through the chaos that so often envelopes the national team and identifying exactly where his energy needs to be expended. Identifying, in essence, what matters.
That is why he approaches that dressing room in the way he does.
Why, as John Terry revealed on Tuesday, he would never turn on the hairdryer before first pausing for a quiet period of reflection.
Capello revealed: 'Always at half-time, when we go into the dressing room, the first thing that I say is, "Take five minutes, have a drink, change your shirt and, please, no one speak, just relax".
'Because if you speak when you go into the dressing room then the stress of the first half is too strong. For five minutes, you need to be quiet and relax - after that we will speak about what we have to do for the second half. This is my secret.'
It is, you suspect, one of many secrets.