Many young soccer fans may not be familiar with the name Fabio Capello. If they are, then it is one synonymous with an ill-fated spell as England manager. In a word, failure. Yet for those who remember him managing in Italy and Spain, they would be hard pressed to name a better club manager in the history of world football. Capello now takes unfancied Russia to the World Cup finals in Brazil with one last chance to prove he is the greatest.
Having started his managerial career at AC Milan, he led the club to one of the greatest periods of the Rossoneri’s history. Managing the likes of Dutch trio Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard supported by an Italian backbone of Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi, he led Milan to a 58 league games unbeaten from May 1991 and March 1993. The record finally tumbled to a Faustino Asprilla goal in a 1-0 victory for Parma. He also masterminded a 4-0 Champions League final over the great Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona “Dream Team”.
Capello joined Real Madrid in 1996 and faced scrutiny from the Real fans due to his penchant for defensive play. He won La Liga in his one season there. Despite moving back to Milan and enduring a less successful time due to a completely different looking side, Capello was instrumental in the rebuilding of it. He was fired before Milan went from a mid-table side the year before to winning Serie A in 1999. He argued his successor won the league with “my team”.
That summer, Capello arrived at then unfashionable Roma, a team he subsequently guided to the Serie A title in two years. Roma had been in Serie B not long before Capello’s arrival. He then moved to Juventus, where he won back-to-back titles, only for them to be stripped of the titles following the 2006 Serie A scandal.
Nevertheless, Capello was re-employed by Real, who were suffering a serious trophy drought. He was tasked with winning La Liga, an achievement that had eluded five managers since 2003. In his one controversial season back at the club – in which he fell out with Ronaldo and David Beckham – Capello brought the title back to Madrid.
So why is he rarely held in the same esteem as other high-profile managers and not seen as the greatest? A major blot on his managerial copy book is time as England manager. Despite a near 100 percent qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup in , England was unceremoniously dumped out of the tournament by Germany 4-1. The result did not reflect the game – England’s Frank Lampard scored a clear goal, only for it to be wrongly ruled out for not crossing the line. That happened despite England completing a Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with a record of five wins, three draws and no defeats. In fact, England went through 2011 unbeaten and even beat Spain in a friendly.However, a much-publicized fall-out with the Football Association over captain John Terry’s racism case followed and Capello was out of the door.
Capello had never failed in any previous job and he was awarded a new contract by the Russian Football Union after he guided Russia to the World Cup in Brazil. The problem had to lie with the English FA and the England players. Capello’s plan was to “make England play like Spain”, but introducing a slow and patient build-up to a group of players with egos who like to get the ball forward early was never going to work. He knows he has what is probably his final chance to prove he has what it takes at international level and prove he is the greatest. Nobody expects him to do it with Russia, so that should work in his favor.
World Cup Preview is a daily series providing commentary and analysis of the teams and players participating in this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd