The Antagonist - The madness of Fabio Capello
Published: 14 May 2010 - 05:13:04
There were worrying signs earlier this week that our esteemed national manager may be starting to lose the plot, like so many before him.
Firstly, on Tuesday, rumours started circulating that Owen Hargreaves had been sounded out as a surprise inclusion into the provisional 30-man squad - strange thoughts from a man who has regularly gone on record stating that he will pick his teams based on current form.
Hargreaves has played barely one minute of Premier League football since September 2008. I don't believe he touched the ball in that minute against Sunderland. Perhaps the classy way he trotted out onto the pitch or the way he'd tied his laces convinced Fabio that he was worth considering; we will probably never know. A match- fit Hargreaves would have been a nailed-on selection but, with his recent medical history, he represented an incredibly reckless gamble.
Secondly, his 'Capello Index', rating players on their performances in World Cup matches, was a disastrous concept which, like his Hargreaves idea, fortunately was discarded before too much damage ensued.
So, what is happening to the man about whom nobody had a bad word to say and who has apparently inspired his charges to romp through the qualifying matches and start as one of the pre-tournament favourites?
I'll tell you what is happening. It is the early stages of a type of 'cabin fever' that many of his predecessors experienced. Cabin fever, for the uninitiated, is a form of madness sailors suffered from when they had been at sea for weeks without a sight of land. A fairly obscure analogy you might argue, but if you imagine that international matches are land and no matches are sea you may begin to understand where I am coming from.
The problem with being an England manager is that you have a game, then no games for two months, then maybe a couple of games in quick succession and then nothing for another couple of months. Between the games you do a bit of PR, have a haircut, open a few sports centres and travel around watching a lot of football matches. No wonder that the mind starts to wander and demons begin to creep into your thoughts.
With a club manager, a bad performance or tactical error can be rectified when the next match comes along: normally in less than a week. With an England manager, the next match may be many moons away, leaving plenty of time for remorse and brooding.
If we look back, many England managers of recent times have soiled previously unblemished records with uncharacteristic, sometimes bizarre behaviour.
Sir Alf Ramsey, arguably our most successful national manager, if only because he's the only one who has ever won anything, made some very strange decisions.
His somewhat xenophobic outburst about an admittedly over exuberant Argentinean side would have caused uproar in today's politically correct society. His most off-the-wall decision was, perhaps, to leave out our best player, Jimmy Greaves, for a more workmanlike forward Geoff Hurst in the '66 final. Of course, as history tells us, that had quite a successful outcome. If it hadn't, however, and we had lost to West Germany, he would undoubtedly been hung out to dry.
Sir Alf eventually got his come uppance in Mexico 1970 when, with England cruising to victory over the same opponents, he took off two of his best players to rest them for the games to come and ended up losing the match and getting the next plane home. Needless to say his tenure of the top job was shortly terminated.
Glenn Hoddle, a highly successful boss with Chelsea, amongst others, started encouragingly then succumbed to his version of cabin fever by omitting the most talented player of his generation, Paul Gascoigne, from the 1998 World Cup squad. He compounded his unpopularity with the nation by inferring that the disabled were being punished for sins in a former life. Bad move Hods!
Graham Taylor was reduced to hysterical paranoia, highlighted in a damning documentary which ridiculed his behaviour in and out of the changing room. Also, unforgettably, he committed the cardinal sin of substituting Gary 'Walkers Crisps' Lineker in his farewell international, denying him the opportunity to equal Bobby Charlton's England goal-scoring record.
Kevin Keegan, widely criticised because of his perceived tactical naivety, resigned, thoroughly depressed, because he just felt he wasn't up to the job and Sven, after a promising start, got involved in the sleaze that has seemed to envelope our game in recent years and was castigated for his inexplicable decision to take Theo Walcott to the 2006 World Cup.
Then there was the 'Wally' who failed to realise that it is important in management to keep a distance between you and the players and froze when important decisions needed taking.
All of the above were (and some have been since) highly successful managers who, one way or another, have gone off the rails as international managers.
Why then does anyone take a job that has been shown to be a career breaker?
The reason is, of course, that whilst some may consider it a poisoned chalice, it is nevertheless, the ultimate accolade to be manager of your country (or someone else's country in Fabio’s case!)
Let us hope that Fabio learns from the mistakes of the former incumbents and resists the temptation to sail too close to the edge of sanity or he may find that the World is flatter than he thought.
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