Where did it all go wrong, Fabio?

After four years in charge of England, Fabio Capello was driven away from Wembley Stadium late yesterday afternoon having no doubt reached a Compromise Agreement with the FA in which, as his son later said, he would stop criticising his now ex-employers. It is unlikely he will be leaving totally empty handed either, but for all the money he has pocketed from the FA in four years, the question has to be, where did it all go wrong?

There will be some distinct memories of his time in charge.

The ones off the field will feature any short highlights package: his meeting at Wembley with John Terry in early 2010 when he first stripped him of his captaincy; the pictures of him in a Directors Box at Old Trafford sitting in the same stand as Rio Ferdinand when it was public knowledge he was going to give Terry the captaincy back without personally informing the holder of the armband at the time; the shots of him in a studio in London talking to Italian Television on Sunday night, which ultimately made his position untenable; and the shots of him being driven away from North West London last night.

But it wasn’t the Captaincy that shaped his tenure. When taking a cold look back, history will point to the football pitches in South Africa in June 2010.

Sure, Capello had the best win percentage of any England Manager with 67% wins, but we know 84% of those type of stats are misleading. When it came to the crunch, Capello got nearly every big call wrong, with regards to team selection, man management and tactics.

His judgement was as flawed with his squad, as it was in not appreciating the benefit of the FA taking the decision to strip Terry of the captaincy for a second time out of his hands. As written previously, it was the only outcome the FA could have reached; by making the decision above his head, he could have, if he wanted, still have kept Terry on side, while picking a new Captain, such as Scott Parker, free from any cliques, and able to build a new unity in what would be a final push at an International Major Tournament, for him, and a couple of members of his squad.

That is, unless he was looking for a way out, which is entirely possible.

After the World Cup he expected the axe to fall, and was ready for it. But the FA, as so often before in recent times hesitated, in turn waiting for him to resign, and mitigating the large losses they inflicted upon themselves when they first gave, and then extended, and extraordinary contract to Capello in order to airbrush the memories of Steve McClaren.

McLaren himself was actually a logical appointment; fitting in with the mid-term plan when Sven Goran Ericsson was appointed as the first foreign Manager in England’s history, McClaren was the Englishman that followed, as promised; he had international experience of working alongside Ericsson, was a student and progressive coach, and had Managerial success, being one of the few English Managers to win a silverware at club level this century.

And McClaren was initially brave, dispensing with David Beckham (who didn’t seem to deserve his place on merit at the 2006 World Cup), replacing the goalkeeper, and making tactical changes dependent on the opponent. It probably went wrong for McLaren when a Gary Neville back pass hit a bobble in the pitch away in Zagreb and under Paul Robinson’s foot. Robinson, unlucky in that instant, but arguably at fault for the second goal in a 2-0 win for Croatia that night, lost confidence, and in the crunch return n a rainy night at Wembley Stadium, McClaren hung his hat on Scott Carson rather than David James. Despite a comeback led by a resurgent Beckham, goalkeeping errors meant England failed to qualify for Euro 2008, and McClaren was out of a job.

The replacement, Capello, came with the supposed antidote of everything that was wrong with the McLaren era – a disciplinarian that wouldn’t be as matey as McLaren was with the players he was once coach to; an authoritative figure with a real significant and undisputable track record. But his supposed strengths became his weaknesses, stringent in his outdated views, and equally feared and remote from his players.

His instance on playing 4-4-2 was most embarrassingly shown up as Germany outclassed England in the last sixteen in the World Cup, as the Germans, like the two eventual finalists Spain and Holland, played a 4-2-3-1, that not only protected their back four, but cut through the England lines like a knife through butter.

But even before Germany, Capello’s set-up was an accident waiting to happen. Prior to the tournament, the man on a multi-million pound salary came up his own venture, the ‘Capello Index’, which would lead to his ratings of his own players being in the public domain. The idea was eventually stopped before the tournament started, but it did himself no favours, as other aspects of his judgements proved to be suspect.

Of his provisional squad, reports suggested that two of the form players in the 2010 season, Scott Parker and Michael Dawson, were performing well in training, yet both were left out. Ahead of Dawson as a fourth centre back in the squad, Capello picked Jamie Carragher, a player who had previously retired from international football on principle, and who had spent much of that season playing at right-back, struggling with his form so much that season he had publicly said he had thought about retiring from the game altogether. Also, shortly before the tournament, Capello had asked Paul Scholes, another player who had given up on playing for England, to come out of International retirement. Scholes refused, but these decisions, like the Capello Index, would have done nothing for the confidence of the players who were more committed.

And there were divisions in the camp. Not new to England set-ups, they were along club lines. With Rio Ferdinand getting injured and pulling out of the squad on the eve of the tournament, Steven Gerrard became the next Captain, yet John Terry was still clearly the natural leader in the group. After two draws in a group that should have been routine on paper, the divisions spilled out in a Terry Press Conference.

The first draw, against the USA came after England got off to a flying start, and an early Gerrard goal. However, it was Capello’s choice as a goalkeeper, Robert Green, who made a mistake he was always liable to, that got USA back in the game, and into a position where they could have gone on and won the game. The following Friday came arguably one of the most abject performances of any England team at the finals of any major tournament, in a goalless draw against Algeria. Capello correctly replaced Green (with David James), but in a rare occurrence, nine of the ten outfield players that started had bad performances, with the exception of Glen Johnson. Collective nightmares on such as scale suggest not coincidence, but something more fundamental.

And Terry’s comments in the press conference recognised that. Of course, with the prospect of being undermined Capello realised he had to act (ironically, as the FA have now done with him), and Terry publicly apologised, before going on to have an excellent game in England’s solitary win in the tournament, a 1-0 win against Slovenia thanks to a Jermain Defoe goal, brought into the team in one of Capello’s better moves. The failure to get a second goal though not only meant a nervy Wednesday afternoon for millions, with England at times once again hanging against supposedly inferior opposition, but resulted in second place in the group, and a match against Germany.

And the Slovenia win was as good as it got for Capello. The Germans already missed clear cut chances before they went 2-0 up, and even though the game might have changed had video technology been in place, and the sides gone in level at 2-2, it was the failure to play intelligent football when England were on top at the second half, and still only 2-1 down, that led to Germans exploiting space at will. And then when England needed goals to stay in the tournament Capello took off Defoe, and brought on Heskey.

It was a substitution as bizarre as Graham Taylor replacing Gary Linekar with Alan Smith when one goal was need against Sweden in Euro ’92. That was Taylor settling a personal score with Linekar, effectively cutting his nose of in the belief it would grow back in his misguided view that football played by big, physical men was the way forward; but with Capello, there was not even skewed logic – just bad judgement.

There were signs of improvement since, with eventual progression from an outdated shape, recognition at last for Joe Hart (who surely should have started in South Africa ahead of Green), and even a realisation that Scott Parker should be central to the team. Squad selection for the Spain friendly, which included Daniel Sturridge, Danny Wellbeck Kyle Walker and Phil Jones, suggested the Capello could even leave England in a good state after he left. The result itself in that match  came from a tactic that will ultimately be unsustainable over a period, but brought victory against the best team in the world with a performance that at least had tactical logic, with players disciplined, and a far cry from the naivety highlighted against Germany in 2010.

Also, finally, there was no placating of players on reputation, with Frank Lampard seemingly judged on form, and Gerrard, arguably the most wasteful against the Germans, not guaranteed a starting place. But these signs of progression were surely the least the FA, and we, should expect from such an experienced and well remunerated man.

Had England had a great World Cup, and everything was much rosier with regards to the prospects in the summer, it is probable any differences over the captaincy would have been ironed out, with Terry still being replaced, but Capello on-board before the decision was made, or at least after yesterday’s meeting. But yet, while it seems to have gone wrong for Capello, there is suddenly renewed optimism for England, with the widespread acceptance he wasn’t the right man for the job.

Since the farcical situation in 1999, where an ill-thought out reactionary answer by the then Prime Minister in answer to question from Richard and Judy led to an Acting FA Chairman and Acting FA Chief Executive to lose their nerve in the eye of a media witch-hunt and wrongly sack Glenn Hoddle as England Manager, the FA have been weak. Suddenly, in the last week, under the leadership of David Bernstein they have shown they have a backbone, decisively, and correctly removing Terry as Captain, and now Capello as Manager.

There may be a dearth of top quality players for England, but with good management, it is entirely possible that England teams in the next ten years will achieve more than the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ that was hyped by the idea of a superior Premier League. As we saw against Germany, the players we have been told are the cream of the “best League in the World” get punished at International Level when they continually give the ball away cheaply. A new approach could change that. It may have gone wrong for Fabio, but strong leadership from the very top of the FA may result in it going right for England.


The Substantive Football Columnist Mel Gomes’ new e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to buy for a Kindle from Amazon for £4.27 inc VAT, and for a number of other formats including as a PDF, an online download and for Apple, Palm and Sony hand-held devices from Smashwords. With recollections of matches including Clasicos, Milan Derbies and Diego Maradona’s one appearance at White Hart Lane, it covers a journey over land and sea in the 2010-11 Champions League, documenting football at the highest level in the shadow of a sport where money is now the driver. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.