Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It's really the glasses that have sold me

Now that Jose Mourinho has taken himself out of the running, Fabio Capello has apparently jumped to the top of the short-list for the next England manager. I was a little surprised, but I kind of liked the idea of Mourinho taking over; however, my not-very-informed opinion is that Capello would be just as good -- or maybe even better.

It seems to me that one of the first things to do is to figure out what it is you want from a manager. This is perhaps where the FA failed most spectacularly last time, when their list of qualifications was limited to "Not being foreign." (This is also part of what made me think Mourinho was a good choice: he had a clear plan of what he wanted to do as manager.)

This shouldn't be that hard, actually. As far as I'm concerned, it's a pretty short list:

1. Pick the right players
This means first deciding on the right players to be called up for the squad (not, say, naming half a dozen left-backs for no apparent reason) and, once you've done that, choosing the best eleven for each game.

As a bonus to this, it would be nice if the manager could make some kind of vaguely effective use of friendlies to develop a larger pool of decent players so that if the team is hampered by injuries -- as England undoubtedly was during this last qualifying campaign -- it isn't such a huge crisis because there are plenty of solid replacements.

2. Pick the right strategy and get the best out of those players
First of all, this means developing an appropriate strategy for beating the teams you come up against (that is, not necessarily always a pedestrian 4-4-2, spiced up with random attempts at 3-5-2 that turn out to be utter disaster). Second, getting that strategy across to the players so that they know what their job is when they get on the pitch. Third, making the right substitutions in response to how a game is going. And finally -- and perhaps most importantly -- getting the players working together as a team rather than a collection of eleven random egos that is sadly less than the sum of its parts.

So far, none of this is all that earth-shattering. It's the bare minimum you'd expect from any manager, isn't it? And yet Steve McClaren seemed to be stunningly incapable of any of it. So how do you tell whether a new manager is going to be any good? Obviously it's possible for a relatively unproven manager to come in and do a brilliant job, but it's a bigger risk than appointing someone like Capello with a fantastic track record. Let's face it, he wouldn't have won all those trophies if he was totally useless. And somebody with his pedigree is also much more likely to earn the respect of the players that he needs.

But there's one more qualification that I think is important:

3. Deal with the media and public expectations
Now, this doesn't necessarily mean having a good relationship with the media. In fact, trying to get everyone to like you (*coughMcClarencough*) will do as much damage as anything. Getting the media onside is a bonus, but conversely the ability to just ignore them is also an asset. That includes not being pressured into making decisions based on popular opinion. Ironically, I think that could've been one of Mourinho's problems: not that he would have picked a player just because people on a call-in show wanted him to, but I could kind of see him doing the opposite and not picking someone just to be perverse.

You know what's not on my little list? Being English. Obviously speaking English is a big help, so that you can communicate with the players, but Capello's already learned Spanish; I'm sure he can manage to learn enough English to say "Robbo, lay off the pies" or whatever. But being English? Who cares? It's easy enough for me to say, since I'm not English, but I think the idea that a foreign manager wouldn't be able to properly motivate the team because they lack some innate understanding of "Englishness" is total bullshit. Plus, as far as I can tell, innately English football is innately not particularly good.

True, most of the other "big" countries -- France, Italy, Brazil, Germany -- have a manager of the same nationality. But even Brazil had Phil Scolari for a while, and although he spoke the language, he wasn't Brazilian, so where's the shame in that? Maybe the question is whether England truly is a world-class team (arguably they're not, if they can't even make it to the Euros) or if they just want to be.

You could argue that this is a good opportunity to appoint an up-and-coming English manager, now that there isn't a big tournament looming immediately, and give him some time and space to learn on the job. The problem with that is that I doubt whoever it was would be allowed that leeway to make mistakes -- not to mention the fact that none of the supposedly up-and-coming English managers seem to want the job, and those who do are not an inspiring bunch. So you might as well go with a manager who is world-class, and hope that he can drag the team up to where it wants to be.

Which brings us to Fabio Capello. Pros:

  • He wants the job
  • He has a stellar resume
  • He knows how to manage a bunch of overhyped primadonnas (see: Madrid, Real)
  • He knows how to deal with the press (usually scornfully)
  • He wears excellent glasses

  • His English is limited, but as I said above, so what? And although he's managed a slew of big clubs, he hasn't managed a national team; but again, so what?
  • Probably the biggest point against him is his reputation for bore-you-to-tears catenaccio. And yes, it might be nice to see England dancing around opponents like Brazil in St. George's cross. It would also be a bit disconcerting. Personally, I'd be just as happy with a boring team that can actually win things. Plus, England could use a bit of defensive discipline, so that they don't get all squirrely any time they have to sit on a one-goal lead.
  • He also supposedly has a history of playing favourites with some players and falling out with others. That could certainly be a weakness (look at Sven-Goran Eriksson's infatuation with David Beckham); on the other hand, the Beckham saga at Real Madrid proved that at least Capello can recognize when a player has earned his place back in the team and make use of him.

All this (very extended, sorry) is to say that I think Capello would be a great choice, and I hope the FA don't fuck this one up too. I do wonder what made Mourinho decide that he didn't want the job. Was he really just using it to flush out offers from the big clubs? Did he realize that he'd be bored without the day-to-day, hands-on involvement of club management? Or did he simply decide that the England set-up has too many problems and he didn't want to cope with the collection of buffoons at the FA? Because if it's the latter, then I'd be worried that any other good candidates are going to come to the same conclusion and stay far away from a job that would cause so much damage to their sanity.


sp3ktor said...

That pretty much says it all.

If Capello is chosen it could open the way for England to play a 4-2-3-1 formation often played by Real Madrid and like that adopted by Manchester United against Arsenal earlier this season.

Whether this would allow Lampard and Gerrard to play together is another matter. It worked well for Real in the pre-Capello Galacticos era allowing them to play Figo, Zidane and Raul in an attacking midfield three.

Jen said...

Th thing with a formation like that is that you need the right kind of player as the "1", and I'm not sure whether England have that at the moment. Rooney does sometimes play there when United use a similar formation, but I'm still not entirely convinced by that.

I am curious about how Capello will resolve the Lampard-Gerrard thing. He has a reputation for not picking players solely because they're big names, which I like, even if it might mean Gerrard being dropped sometimes.

I'm also curious about whether he'd stick with John Terry as captain. ;)

sp3ktor said...

As long as you could guarantee the midfield three would play in an advanced position (requires a lot of trust in the two holders) you could play Rooney in the three with a Crouch (please will someone send him a DVD of 101 Jan Koller goals for Christmas) roaming ahead of them. Of course this would mean Lampard or Gerrard would need to be dropped (I wouldn't drop Joe Cole for anyone).

JJ said...

I heard this on the radio this morning, Fabio Capello has until the 7th of January to learn English and a bunch of England fans have made this site... Capello Learns English Its funny and meaningful!