I have lost count of the times when, after an England match when the players have predictably underperformed, people have phoned in to 606 and said something along the lines of “this Capello bloke. Never liked him. He’s foreign and hasn’t got the passion.” I paraphrase of course but I don’t think I’m unfair in saying that that is often the general tenor of the criticism. So, with Capello gone I assume that these people will now be rubbing their hands together with glee at the prospect of some passionate Englishman who will inevitably lead this country to the glory which indifferent foreigners have denied us.
Of course, this is a facetious argument and one that obscures the real problems which have left England without a trophy since 1966. In international management the things which you need to succeed are good players and good tactics. Of course, it is nice to have a manager who wears his heart on his sleeve and so forth but that hardly creates success in and of itself. After all, look at the fortunes of Kevin Keegan during his time in charge. A more passionate man would be hard to find but, by his own admission, he was not the best with tactics and, predictably enough, we ended up playing Gareth Southgate in midfield and losing to the Germans. Or, for another example, take a look at the fortunes of Blackpool in the Premiership in 2010/11. Under Ian Holloway they had a manager who was incredibly passionate and encouraged his players to go out and express themselves on the pitch but that only gets you so far. As it turned out, Blackpool’s early-season success was built on a cavalier attitude towards defence which eventually all the other teams worked out and they ended up getting relegated.
But was Capello a bad manager? No. Or at least not by a statistical measure. Below is a list of England’s managers by their win ratios:
1. Fabio Capello, 2008-2012: 66.7% (played 42 matches)
2. Alf Ramsey, 1963-1974: 61.1% (113)
3. Glenn Hoddle, 1996-1999: 60.7% (28)
4. Ron Greenwood, 1977-1982: 60% (55)
5. Sven-Goran Eriksson, 2001-2006: 59.7% (67)
6. Walter Winterbottom, 1946-1963: 56.1% (139)
7. Steve McClaren, 2006-2008: 50% (18)
8. Bobby Robson, 1982-1990: 49.5% (95)
9. Don Revie, 1974-1977: 48.3% (29)
10. Terry Venables, 1994-1996: 47.8% (23)
11. Graham Taylor, 1990-1993: 47.4% (38)
12. Kevin Keegan, 1999-2001: 38.9% (18)
(This list is taken from Wikipedia and reprinted here just for convenience. I have also excluded the tenures of Joe Mercer (7 matches), Howard Wilkinson (2) and Peter Taylor (1).)
This places Capello firmly at the top of the tree, albeit that he didn’t manage for as long as Ramsey, Robson and Winterbottom. However, his win percentage is noticeably higher than Ramsey’s and that cannot just be down to playing weaker teams all of the time. The idea that Capello is some sort of tactical donkey is not born out either by the statistics or by his record of 14 career trophies (one significantly better than Ramsey’s by the way).
So the real problem must be recognised as lying with the players. Let’s look at the recent World Cup where, apparently, it is Capello’s fault that England lost. Apparently it is the manager’s fault that eleven apparently world-class players couldn’t string together a single series of passes together against Algeria. Apparently it is Capello’s fault that John Terry couldn’t head away a simple long ball against Germany. Apparently it is Capello’s fault that Rob Green couldn’t hold onto a weak punt against the USA. Need I go on. The whole point is that the manifest failures of the England players to demonstrate enough talent to justify the absurd amount of praise heaped upon them are not, and never have been, the fault of the England manager. But this just doesn’t seem to be accepted. I read a bizarre article written after England failed to qualify for the finals of the 2008 European Championships (under McClaren of course, not Capello) which seriously tried to claim that England’s players had played fantastically but had been beaten by a system which they had apparently done their best to undermine during the match. I’m sorry but that’s just silly.
Capello has a fantastic record across Europe and I find it more than a bit pretentious to hear pundits with little to no managerial records (and if they do, none too successful ones) pontificating about tactics as if they’re suddenly Herbert Chapman. I can assure anyone that he will be in another highly-paid and prestigious job by the start of next season. So who’s going to replace him? It will probably be Harry Redknapp and it has already been announced that Stuart Pearce will coach the side for the friendly against the Netherlands. Pearce has a pretty poor managerial record but his time with the Under 21s has, off and on, been fairly encouraging and we need only look at the German model of recent times to see the encouraging possibilities of a young team coming through as full internationals under the coach who worked with them at youth level. However, his time has not yet come, I don’t think. Gus Hiddink is without a job just now and he has a pretty good record in leading poor international teams to results better than their quality would suggest. In an ideal world he would be hired to take England through the European Championships and then, depending on results, the job should be handed to Harry Redknapp to do it until the next World Cup in Brazil. After that maybe to Stuart Pearce.
But, of course, maybe Hiddink doesn’t have the passion.