LONDON – The post of England manager is often called the impossible job which is probably why it nearly always ends in tears. Fabio Capello became the latest victim when he resigned on Wednesday, leaving England with no coach and no captain four months before Euro 2012.
There is usually a crisis before England travels to a major finals but this beats the lot.
There has never been a week like this in English football. In the wake of the Football Association stripping John Terry of the captaincy before his trial for an allegedly racially aggravated public order offense against Anton Ferdinand, which the Chelsea defender denies, Capello quit hours after Harry Redknapp was found not guilty of two charges of tax evasion.
Sky News was in meltdown. “Arryvederci Capello” was one headline to a coach who in four years earned — some would say was paid is more apt — £24 million, but who never bothered to embrace England or the English language. Fittingly, his last interview as England manager was in Italian when he criticized the F.A. for ditching Terry.
As a club manager, Capello never bought a British let alone an English player. He will be remembered for his arrogance, inflexibility and aloofness, overseeing a joyless debacle of a 2010 World Cup campaign where he announced who the England goalkeeper would be an hour before its first game. For discipline, read boot camp for Englatalia led by sergeant major Capello.
He initially gave auditions for the captaincy, decided on Terry, took it away from him, gave it back and then resigned after the F.A., against his wishes but looking at a bigger picture than an armband, decided Terry should not lead his country until the trial has come to a natural conclusion.
Capello believes in the innocent until proven guilty theory and felt Terry was being punished ahead of the hearing. There is, of course, an assumption of innocence whereby the accused does not have to prove his innocence, his accusers must prove his guilt.
This does not stop some defendants from being held in custody ahead of the trial, some are placed on gardening leave, others, notably MPs, resign. For the accused life does not necessarily continue as usual, so Don Fabio’s argument does not stand up.
A serial winner as a club coach, Capello left with the best win percentage of any England manager (66.7 percent) but when it mattered most, in South Africa, his team failed miserably. Capello rarely seemed overjoyed to be leading England — few were overjoyed he was still in place after 2010 — and there is a belief he engineered his departure to take one last megabucks job with super-rich Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia.
When Capello offered his resignation to F.A. chairman David Bernstein he did not attempt to talk the Italian out of it, simply saying his departure “was the right decision for the F.A.” The loveless marriage between the F.A. and Capello was over.
Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce will take charge for the friendly against Holland on Feb. 29. The F.A. met to draw up a short list of candidates, and when Bernstein was asked if public opinion mattered in the choice of the next manager he replied: Of course it will.
Bernstein said they would “prefer” someone English or British to succeed Capello and public opinion is firmly behind Redknapp, the only credible successor, though cynics would say he is merely the best of an average bunch. The media-friendly “Arry” has plenty of supporters in the press which may have elevated him above his real value as a manager. Capello arrived with titles won at AC Milan, Roma, Juventus and Real Madrid plus a European Cup with Milan. In 29 years as a manager, the F.A. Cup he won with Portsmouth four years ago is Redknapp’s only major honor.
Why would Redknapp want to leave an excellent Tottenham team for England which few believe has any realistic chance of winning Euro 2012 and even less hope of glory at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil?
It is 46 years since England won the World Cup, its only major title, so history does not inspire confidence. England is a quarterfinal team and Redknapp would know the chances of him improving on that this summer are slim.
Despite the obvious and inevitable negatives, it would still be hard for a proud Englishman like Redknapp to make an offer from the F.A. one he can refuse even though he said last year: “The England job is a hard job to take on, a lot of good managers have tried but failed . . . it’s a poisoned chalice if you like.”
The only other English managers in the Premier League are Newcastle’s Alan Pardew, who has ruled himself out of the reckoning before he was in it, and Roy Hodgson of West Bromwich who would love the job but would not be a popular appointment.
Despite the preference for a home manager Bernstein added that the F.A. wants “the best man,” and while only Otto Rehhegal, the German who led Greece to success at Euro 2004, is the lone foreign coach to win either the European Championship or World Cup, it would be foolish to rule out Guus Hiddink.
If Redknapp is to succeed Capello it would be best for him to leave Euro 2012 to Hiddink or Pearce and start with the 2014 World Cup qualifiers where England tends to do well.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.