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Friday, December 14, 2007

HAVE THEIR CAKE? MAY HAVE TO EAT IT TOO

The thing about Don Fabio Capello is that he doesn’t give a shit. He doesn’t care if your name is Brooking, Barwick, Beckham, Terry, Ronaldo or Totti – he knows he’s forgotten more about football management than the lot of these combined idiots will ever know, and he has no reason to think otherwise. With an unparalleled record of 9 league titles with four different teams in 16 years of management, why should he doubt himself? That’s the thing – he doesn’t.

Unfortunately the ink from the contract isn't even dry yet, and already the problems with managing the English, have arisen. There were rumours recently about the FA holding up negotiations to insist that he put an English coach or assistant on his staff. The reasons for this may be obvious – the FA want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to hire the perceived best candidate available, and to have an English presence on the staff, so the public don’t feel so bad about having to admit that they lack the management acumen in England.

But the English FA could be in for a surprise - because in having their cake, they may discover they'll have to eat it too. If you want someone strong enough to stand up to public pressure and star power, you'll also have someone strong enough to stand up to the FA. And that's exactly what they'll get with Capello.

The best thing about Capello is that he does it his way, and nobody will tell him differently.
The worst thing about Capello is that he does it his way and nobody will tell him differently.

I'm not sure that, based on the evidence so far, the English FA know what they're getting into. Why in the world would the FA insist on disrupting his method – why would they insist on forcing an Englishman on him when his own formula has proved so successful? Maybe because the English FA care more about looking like they're "in control of the situation" than it does about winning – if they didn’t, they would have hired Capello with no strings attached, and told him to run the team as he wishes.

You see, when you care more about looking good than winning, you get Sven Goran Ericksson. And when it turns out that he's not the man, rather than starting from scratch, and admitting you've gotten it all wrong, you hire his lieutenant after the next best candidate (Luis "Felipao" Scolari) turns you down. That way, you can say, "We were just a little bit wrong with Ericksson - the only problem with him was that he wasn't English!"

Capello could never be accused of caring more about looking good than winning. His teams are characterized by defensive discipline, accurate and controlled passing with a majority of possession and few easy chances donated to the opponent. At the other end of the pitch, he typically goes for strikers who are capable of slotting into his system, doing all the other work required of a striker aside from scoring goals, and finishing the chances that come their way. It is in this area that I would be most interested to see what is his solution, because there aren’t too many strikers in England that can do this, and fewer still with the ability to possess sufficiently to score in this setup.

At Madrid he had van Nistelrooy, at Roma Totti, at Juventus Ibrahimovic. There is some confusion surrounding his first stint at Milan – although Papin, van Basten and Gullit were on the books at the time, these were not the strikers that were in his line-up – this was left to the likes of Daniele Massaro and Dejan Savićević. Not big names, but players who knew the strategy, and had the skills to execute the tactics necessary to bring that strategy to fruition. Frankly, I don’t see those kinds of attacking players in England (remember when Rooney got sent-off against Portugal in the World Cup, how they blamed it on Cristiano Ronaldo and the frustration of having to play alone up front).

Despite Capello’s record, I think it is a mistake for the FA to take him on as a manager, not because he isn’t good, but because what he’s good at is senior team management, and not player development. In my opinion, this is the biggest problem they have in England. In France, all the good French players know each other from a very young age, because they’ve all trained together for years at the national training center at Clairefontaine. By the time they become full professionals, they’re so in synch with one another about how to play the game, and how to combine, their value is multiplied by each French player they encounter.

There’s a camaraderie amongst the French players that doesn’t exist in England, and it comes from the fact that they’ve mostly come through the same development system, been through the selection wars, and come out the other end with the same competitiveness and sense of allegiance to the team. The English are a band of mercenaries, who rarely play with one another unless they’re in the same club growing up – outside of that, there is no commonality, and little understanding of how to play together. Young English players are brought up in the club youth system, and not in a national youth system like what they have in France. The English have good players, and as a national team if they’re playing Moldova or Lichtenstein they can manage, but let pressure come through and that same group of players is just a band of step-brothers.

The key to the French success is that there is a club mentality in the national team, and as such a synergy that has made them successful in the last few years. In my view Mourinho would have been a better choice, because he understands how to create an effective club atmosphere that he could have translated to the international level. But we’ll never know why it is he took his hat out of the ring AFTER being interviewed. That’s extraordinary. The idea that he was just using the England job as a ploy to get a deal from Real or Bayern is, in my opinion, silly. In management, you never know what the next opportunity is going to be, and even for "the special one" to assume that he’ll get an offer from one of the other G14 clubs in the next year or so, would be extremely presumptuous. We've all had interviews where it seemed like the people across the table were interested in something (or someone else). If Mourinho he had gotten a positive response from Barwick and Brooking, I'm sure he would have taken the job, because given his record, he would have walked on water in England as long as he got results. Unfortunately for him, the FA had other ideas – namely Capello.

Now they find themselves in the unenviable position of having to concede in their first public spat over something that really ought to be left up to the manager they wanted to hire in the first place - or maybe that's just what they wanted?

In politics, when a story like this leaks to the press, you assume it's a plant, and I wouldn't put it past the FA to do the same here. What better way to show the public that you did your best to bring in English coaches (assuaging an idiotic groupthink mentality that has no merit on its own, but has resonance if enough people echo the same thoughts), while at the same time, being able to blame it on someone else (namely Capello) if the England staff isn't the least bit English. And what about this idiotic "search" for the best candidate? All the people they (told us they) consulted along the way, including Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, and whoever else. Are we really to believe that if any one of them had said, "Hire Mourinho", they would have offered him a contract?

This is another shameless publicity stunt aimed at looking like they've taken all the right steps and righted the ship as best they can. So that they can't be accused of "rushing into" the decision, like they did when they hired McLaren. The truth is, they've had their eye on Capello for months, and nothing in the world would have stopped them hiring him. All this intentional voyeurism into the process of hiring a manager is just another way these jerks are trying to indemnify themselves if they turn out to have made a mistake - again. They can always say, "Hey we consulted all the greatest minds in English football and they recommended Capello!" As if he needed their endorsement.

My guess is that all of this is sowing the seeds of a terrible relationship, because Capello will have noted all of this hemming and hawing, and is definitely the type to hold a grudge. He’s moody and dictatorial, even to those who pay his wage – and at $12M a year for 4 years, what a wage it is.

If they hoped to get someone they could manage a little better than Mourinho, I think they’re sorely mistaken. And if they think he’s going to waste his time looking around the country for the next great English player, they’re barking up the wrong tree. To me, Capello smells of the old English ideas that have proven so wrong in the past. Building a team from scratch, and finding the manager to do that, means a admitting that you're not "right up there with the best". Capello's reputation is for taking a team that's underperforming and turning them into winners

Let’s just see if that remains the case when he's through with England.

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1 Comments:

Blogger MMT said...

A reader commented:

"Not sure what you mean by “You see, when you care more about looking good than winning, you get Sven Goran Ericksson.” Mr. Ericsson took the English team to every single European and World Cup during his tenure. They stumbled after penalties in the knockout stage, the same penalty shootout that most experts agree is more a game of chance than getting a fair winner. See what happened when essentially the same player material failed to qualify for the European Cup despite having been given a second golden chance by Israel . As a Swede, I admit that I am biased – I also have to admit that I was happy that the English did not qualify Euro 2008. Serves the British media right after how they treated Mr. Ericsson and chased him away! (At the same time, I will miss some of the English players, but I think I can get over that). I am also extremely happy to see that the “no-good” Mr. Ericsson is taking a very mediocre Manchester City team (I think we can all agree that it is a mediocre team compared to the other teams at the top of the table despite the new signings for this season) to a steady position among the top 5 clubs in Premier League. To be sure, Mr. Ericsson cares about looking good (just check out his suits), but there is no doubt that he took the British national team far and he has taken every international club to the top position in their leagues. The Brits’ mindset is still a mix of having invented the beautiful game was and the 1960s. They still think that they are the best team in the world and that their righful place is there. The reality is different. Their players are not the best in the world and their team is far from the the best in the world. Once they realize that, they can start building towards that goal and maybe, maybe realize that Mr. Ericsson really did achieve quite a feat in qualifying for every European and World Cup during his tenure…and did so while looking good!"

6:59 PM

 

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