Thursday, February 09, 2012

Capello leaves England post with reputation intact, but the FA have done too much, too late

As Rafa Benitez once said, 'I want to talk about facts'.

Fact 1. Fabio Capello has the highest win percentage of any post-war England manager (66.7%).
Fact 2. Fabio Capello lost just one major tournament qualifier, in 18 games, leading England to World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, both times as group winners.
Fact 3. Fabio Capello has won a domestic league title at every club he has managed (Real Madrid, Roma, Juventus, Milan).

But today, the English Football Association concluded their bumbling and conceited handling of John Terry's racism allegations by forcing Capello into a position where he felt he had no choice but to resign.

Let's get that fact straight: the manager who has led England to qualify undefeated for this summer's European Championships has had to resign, four months before the tournament.

To discuss the Terry saga quickly: the FA were wrong to strip him of the England captaincy. Terry was accused of racist remarks in October 2011, and charged in December 2011. He pleaded not guilty last week, and the case was adjourned until July this year - after Euro 2012. This is when the FA decided to take matters into their own hands.

Why the FA were wrong to do so is simple. John Terry's racism accusations have never disappeared from view since the allegations were made, and they presented no more of a problem to England and the FA right now than at any point since allegedly taking place - and let's not forget that Terry has already captained England in that time - yet the FA decided that since the case would now be hanging over Terry during the tournament (if he was selected), he should be removed from the spotlight by having the captaincy taken from him.

This is the wrong decision, and Capello's frustration is more than reasonable.

He believed that John Terry should not be punished for something he is not currently guilty of. Yes, he faces criminal charges, but he is not, at this moment (and won't be come Euro 2012), a criminal. Steven Gerrard, for example, was charged with affray in 2008 after punching a man in a bar and played in four England games while still accused, before eventually being acquitted.

Compared to the other recent racism charge, John Terry's situation differs from the Suarez-Evra case because in that instance, the case was always a matter for the FA: it was reported by the game's referee to the association and they dealt with it as a football matter. The allegations against Terry were made by a member of the public to the police, have been dealt with by the Crown Prosecution Service, and have therefore never been a matter that the FA have needed to make a ruling on. Their decision over the England football team captaincy would have been acceptable in the immediate aftermath of the allegations, but they are not a legitimate excuse three and a half months on.

That Capello didn't agree with the FA is just one problem. As manager of the England team, for such a crucial decision affecting his squad and the dressing room to be taken out of his hands, without consultation, and to be done so publicly, undermines his position. It displays on the FA's part a complete lack of communication with Capello, or even the willingness to discuss the matter. And it shows their total misjudgement that by acting at the wrong time, and with too much force, they have ousted a manager from his position just 119 days before the biggest international tournament for two years.

Fabio Capello's resignation, therefore, is understandable; perhaps even admirable. He has never quite been at ease with the English media's disgustingly insatiable appetite for scandal and carnage: witness the deliberate trapping of Sven Goran Eriksson by the News of the World as an example of how this country likes to set up its own for a fall, and the relentless abuse Steve McLaren received (in some cases justifiably) throughout his tenure as manager. And Capello has never quite understood why results such as those he has delivered in tournament qualification - 14 wins out of 18 - doesn't appease the English press's criticisms.

(This is a sports press who have idolised a stray cat for running on to a football pitch.)

But the England manager's job is a poisoned chalice: it is the most revered position within the most hallowed sport in a country that still kids itself it should be winning major honours in international football, when the reality is that at least seven nations around the world are miles ahead of England, and the chasing pack are getting closer to us than we are to the top nations.

Against these unrealistic expectations, Capello's job had been compounded by England's pool of talent being incredibly thin: where Spain has a second XI that could compete with the world's top nations, England arguably has less than five world class players to call upon.

It is doubtful, then, that Capello would have been given a fair and respectful send off after the European Championships, even before this debacle. We'll never get a chance to find out, and success certainly won't happen now, no matter who is appointed.

With no captain, no manager, no star players and four months until the tournament begins, the Football Association might think they have done the right thing, but when Euro 2012 comes to an end, and John Terry heads to court, it will be Fabio Capello, not the FA, who will look back on today's events with relief.