Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fabio Capello Won't Succeed Until the English Footballing Culture Changes

Fabio Capello's England team began their World Cup Qualifying campaign against Andorra with a 2-0 victory, and will then take on Croatia in Zagreb on Wednesday night in what already looks like being a crucial match.

But Capello faces a difficult task to bring this team to the World Cup. At the moment there is a split between the England manager and the club managers, a split between the fans and the players, and with some players still questioning the manager's methods this qualifying campaign is already set up to be a hard one—and a ball hasn't been kicked yet...

Capello has questioned the role of the club as far as the international team is concerned. In Italy, where Capello honed his undisputed managerial skills, the national team comes first. There is an un-written rule amongst managers that they will not comment on the national team, unless they are working as analysts.

In England every manager comments on the squad and the team's performances at every chance, undermining the national team manager at every turn.

In Italian football, the national team is regarded as the focal point of the footballing world, and every team strive to help the national side.

In England, plain and simply, it is not.

How else can you explain Liverpool arranging Steven Gerrard's operation during an international break? As far as the clubs are concerned, the players are their property and they will arrange these operations to have as little impact on the club as possible.

Unfortunately, the national side then loses one of it's most important players.

As far as international friendlies are concerned, the clubs and their managers see them as a massive inconvenience to them, often refusing to let players travel or the player developing an injury right before the fixture and pulling out of the squad.

During a 16-year international career, Ryan Giggs only played 64 times for Wales, and he failed to attend an international friendly for nine years. Thankfully, this seems to be an exception, but with many club managers ranging from Gareth Southgate to Rafael Benitez, to Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson, questioning friendlies and removing players from the squad at important points of the club calendar, you can see why the England manager feels undermined.

Another reason that this England squad seem doomed to failure is down to their relationship with many of the fans. The England team operates under an extreme amount of pressure, often getting booed by their fans coming onto and going off the pitch.

If the result is not what the fans regard as an acceptable result, then England get booed. Tonight against Andorra, England will most likely come away with a win. But anything less than say 5-0 will be viewed as unacceptable.

England eventually won 2-0 with two second half goals from Joe Cole. They were booed off at half time and at full time.

England were booed off the pitch after last month's 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic, hardly a bad result. Granted it wasn't a great performance by England on the night, but the Czech's are regarded as one of the better sides in Europe.

Which brings us to the goldfish bowl type attention from the media. When the England players are called up to the squad, the wagons are circled immediately because with the English media's almost constant assault on the England set-up, the players do not trust their media counterparts.

After the Andorra match Joe Cole was asked if the booing from fans was starting to have an effect on the team his response spoke volumes..starting, it already is. But we're professional we'll have to try and get over it and try to pick ourselves up for the next game (Croatia) This quote from Cole would seem to show that the squad are now operating under severe pressure from fans and media but most importantly themselves as they try to impress.

In Italy, there is an excellent paper, the Corriere Dello Sport. Its a sports paper so naturally it covers the nation's obsession with football quite a bit. But it's usually the only paper to cover the sport as the other papers only donate a page or two to sport.

In England, the media and the public fascination with all things soccer is incredible. Every day, at least ten pages per paper are donated to soccer in every paper. Except on Sunday—where it could be 20!

So to fill these pages the national side are covered all the time.

The final reason that Capello is destined for failure is the stark differences between the English football philosophy with that of continental Europe.

In Britain, physical fitness, power, and stamina are usually viewed as being more important than technique and tactical astuteness. Players are brought up from an early age to chase every ball, to win every tackle, to never stop running and to make every challenge count.

All aspects of the English game we love.

In Europe, however, the emphasis at the early stages of football development are on passing, first touch, and off the ball awareness—both defensively and offensively. The physical part of the game is only imposed when the players have developed sufficiently.

Up until recently, you could go to any park in the British Isles on a midweek evening and find 8-year-olds doing laps and push ups.

The Football Associations of all the home countries are trying to change this physical fitness culture, to one based on technique. But, like everything else, that takes time.

The English FA are trying to replicate the world famous Clairefontaine Academy in France, but that was put together 20 years ago, so to look at it in it's most basic terms British football is 20 years behind Europe.

The differences in footballing cultures can be seen in its most direct form with the England players struggling to come to terms with Capello's tactical approach to the game. In England, most teams don't seem to be very tactically astute.

The top four sides are easily the most tactically aware sides in the Premiership, but then again these are the sides who not only play against top European opposition all the time, but are also the teams with the best foreign players—Carvalho, Torres, Fabregas, Berbatov etc—and when these teams do sign the best English players (Rooney, Gerrard, Joe Cole) they are usually employed in what would be regarded as free roles, without the tactical constraints many of their team mates find themselves under because they don't understand the finer details of the tactical side of the game.

Rafael Benitez, is somewhat of a tactical mastermind and his team are a well drilled unit, Steven Gerrard usually operates in a free role here. So you end up with the England squad coming together and all the midfielders play free roles for their clubs!

The England players under Capello are also struggling to come to terms with certain aspects of his regime. Originally Capello insisted on the squad following a strict diet, but after complaints from players after the Czech Republic game he removed the diet from his regime.

Capello has used this same diet at all the clubs he has ever coached, but for some reason it didn't work with England.

So, as Mr Capello begins his job as England manager he has a tough road to follow. For England to be successful the footballing culture has to change.

Maybe the English FA could do worse than appoint Capello as Technical Director when his reign comes to an end?