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England’s first football manager assesses Fabio Capello

FA by name and nature

I sympathise with every man appointed to manage England by the Football Association. Not for nothing are they usually referred to as The FA.  It sums up their collective achievement over almost one hundred and fifty years.

Their appointment of Capello, as it was with Eriksson, is crassly in character. If they had been running the Army when I held the RAF rank of  Wing Commander in WW2, they would probably have asked Rommel to lead the Desert Rats. I did not get on well with the FA and perhaps I turned it into the habit that it has become for all England football managers.

I hold nothing against Capello, as a man or as an Italian. He was offered £6 million a year to bring his glittering career to an end at the home of football. It was the offer not the acceptance that was misguided.

If I recoil at the notion of Capello managing England, it is only because his nationality does not suit the role. That apart, I extend my sympathies to Capello as generously as to any of my successors. Although he was born in north-eastern Italy, in what was then the Allied-occupied Zone A of the Julian March, he is not as dissimilar to me as you might think, in spite of our obvious differences.

Modern ego:

Fabio Capello

Prima ego:

Sir Walter Winterbottom CBE

Image attribution

Photo: Fabio Capello, Wikipedia Commons  

Photo: Walter Winterbottom, englandfootballonline.com  

Photo: England vs US, francofoot.net

Photo: England vs Germany, zimbio.com

Photo: Capello, sportales.com  


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Walter Winterbottom’s opinion was interpreted by Will Coe, December 2011

Feel free to comment on this article..

England vs US 1950. Worse than England vs Germany 2010?

His footballing career outshines mine. Capped 32 times by his country, his goal at Wembley brought Italy their first ever win over England. That was hardly an omen for future success when he switched sides, was it? Ankylosing spondylitis brought my Man U career to an early end. I made the reserve bench during a wartime international but never played or managed abroad.
At 33, I was the youngest ever manager of England, and I became the longest serving, with 139 internationals under my belt. Capello, at 65, is the oldest and his five years in command will involve little more than 60 friendly and tournament matches (presuming that he doesn't win Euro 2012 and withdraw his resignation, an unlikely event, don't you think?).
Our winning ratios are both acceptably over 50% (his, at 66%, is ten per cent better than mine), yet we are both intimately acquainted with humiliation on the pitch. Not only did I lose to the Hungarians 6-3 and 7-1 (Puskas, Kocsis and Hidegkuti were a good excuse), but I somehow contrived to allow the United States to scalp us in the 1950 World Cup (Colombo, Wallace and Gaetjens weren't any kind of excuse). In South Africa's World Cup competition of 2010, Capello's 'golden generation' of English footballers managed to look no better than a pile of iron pyrites. Which only goes to show that every coach is at the mercy of his players and the events in which they are involved.

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Fabio Capello Wlater Winterbottom England face US in 1950 World Cup England vs Germany 2010 World Cup
Training get togethers are well arranged by Capello but he has other obstacles in his path. Firstly, he has been groomed by the Italian state broadcaster RAI and can communicate fluently - but only in Italian. He is no linguist. Secondly, the educational attainments of his team would not shame any of my players. Their multi-million pound salaries would, and it is this that makes them hard to advise and discipline.
It is self-evident that international football managers cannot rise above the players available to them. Capello rightly points out that well under half of the players in the Premier League are eligible for England. My dilemma was of a different kind. Yes, I had the likes of Matthews, Finney, Greaves and Charlton available for England (though sadly not the three key players, Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor and Duncan Edwards, killed in the Munich air crash). The problem was I could not select them. The FA International Committee did that. It was fractured along regional and club lines and often capped players as a reward for long service, or dropped them because their chairmen wanted them for important club games.
I do not regard either my experiences or those of Capello as proof that the role of England manager is a poisoned chalice. They might indicate that it cannot be a long term role - the game, astoundingly, changes too fast for that. After 16 years, I was worn down by the pettiness and meddling of the FA. Capello's problem is that the FA chose him because of the nine league titles to his name and the attractive stability of his family circumstances, quite unconcerned by his inability to speak the language of his team. Once a football icon, he now seems a fallible man resigned to events, rather as I was. My advice is that he should concentrate on bequeathing his successor a side with potential to win the World Cup.
Is it too prideful to point out that my legacy was the not-so-poisoned chalice I passed to Alf Ramsay?
Fabio Capello, the fourth lion?
Capello has not been lucky with his captains. Ferdinand (7 captaincies) courts injury more than controversy but Terry (30 captaincies) has been a godsend to media scandal-mongers. Billy Wright, to whom I gave the armband 90 times, may have been as involved with a female media personality as any current England footballer but he had the decency to remain faithfully married to her. His wife was Joy of the Beverley Sisters (the ones who admitted "I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus", one of my favourite 45s of 1953). Johnny Haynes (22 captaincies) was a more mixed blessing, especially off the pitch where he did his utmost to undermine me. I should have admonished him, as Capello would have done. But I was too much of a gentleman.
This brings me to our most noticeable connection. As hard as it is for us to admit, our ability to communicate with our players is flawed. I suppose, as a pipe-smoking, bespectacled ex-grammar school boy, I did not connect easily with working class professional footballers. I lectured rather than advised and no less a football icon than Stanley Matthews was moved to insist in print that I should leave players to play their own game. He intimated that a Winterbottom team talk felt more attuned to the Oxford Union than the changing room. In my defence, I had to talk a lot when the team were together because little time was allowed for training and it was not unusual for England players to meet each other for the first time in the Wembley dressing room.
The fourth lion?