Blaming rightly is as difficult as praising rightly in today’s media. We’re artisans in the field of praising easily and blaming all too swiftly but, invariably, it’s rash, emotional, vitriolic, overzealous, or short sighted. Fabio Capello had a starring role in the English pantomime abroad and I genuinely believe the only thing to surprise him about it all is the bewitching ability our media has to turn hope into hysteria and expectation into burden.
Not too long ago Gary Linekar presented Capello with the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Coach Award just for qualifying. And last week, after four terrible outings in South Africa by his players, there were emergency meetings held to decide whether he was even the right man to continue as manager. Several bad performances does not change the past and his past is a proven one: eight domestic titles spread over two countries (one now revoked after the infamous calciopoli scandal in 2006) and a Champions League success. Before we kill something, we should make sure we have something better to replace it with – who could the FA feasibly turn to?
But defeat leads to heightened scrutiny and everything came into question: why does he announce his team two hours before kickoff? Why doesn’t he change the formation? Why is Gerrard out on the left? Why, why, why? Naturally this all meant Gareth Southgate was forced to get philosophical on live TV and quote physicists, ‘Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Whilst I don’t doubt the veracity of such a claim, perhaps its resonance for us – as an expectant public – should be more heavily contemplated; we have consistently failed to deliver anything resembling a crown-winning run at a major tournament over the past 12 years yet in the preamble to South Africa we toted ourselves as third favourites behind only Spain and Brazil. Don’t get me wrong, hope is a good thing. But hysteria isn’t.
The players are another gauge for a manager’s position and it was good to hear Jermain Defoe speak of Capello in a reasoned manner:
“If you speak to the rest of the players they will all say the same thing; he’s a great manager and his CV speaks for itself. He’s got great ideas and he was just a little bit unlucky I think. On record he is one of the best managers in the world and has been for a number of years so I can’t see why we would want to get rid of someone like that – it doesn’t make sense.”
And whilst the manager is culpable for tactical misjudgements what he cannot legislate for is injuries, individual errors and all-round uninspiring performances; Green’s opening game blunder and at least three indefensible mistakes against Germany were all compounded by Wayne Rooney looking unhappy throughout, Steven Gerrard being subdued, and Frank Lampard not resembling Frank Lampard. The team’s showing at the World Cup can be traced to a multitude of reasons – both short term (media scandal, injury to key players) and long term infrastructure (grassroots, the dearth of young veritable English talent coming through) – that Capello can do little, if anything, to control. Gary Neville shared an interesting point that many have been thinking in recent times:
“We have to question how good we truly are. Better than we performed in this World Cup, for sure, but have we over-estimated our strengths on the basis of our strong record in the Champions League? Possibly. The success of Manchester United and Chelsea cannot be a reliable guide to the merits of the England team, given the number of top-class players from overseas.”
This allows Capello to legitimately drop familiar faces from the ‘golden generation’ without as vociferous a media circus (the circus will always persist so long as there are papers to be sold and profits to be gained). The claim that his methods are too rigid and that he exhibited a lack of adaptability is unfounded because you simply cannot achieve his feats as a manager without being able to combine the players’ strengths (something that changes with every squad he’s ever worked with) with his own ideology – tactical and otherwise – of winning.
I think Neville’s sentiments go a long way in explaining one of the overarching, endemic problems this nation faces. And it is difficult to expect one manager, however good he is, to remedy a cultural failing. What we can judge him more fairly on is how he addresses the inevitable changes in personnel the World Cup exit begets.
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