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Last Updated: Monday, 17 December 2007, 10:36 GMT
How Capello's England will look

By Ian Hughes

Fabio Capello
Capello has proved a master tactician throughout his career
After a glittering career coaching on the continent, Fabio Capello's credentials as the new England coach could not be better.

But while the 61-year-old Italian seems as well placed as anyone to get the best from England's under-performing stars, it is not yet clear how he will do it.

BBC Sport asked three of Capello's former players at Milan - Brazilian World Cup winner Leonardo, former Manchester United winger Jesper Blomqvist and ex-Spurs midfielder Christian Ziege - how Capello will shape England.


While Sven-Goran Eriksson was accused of having no Plan B and Steve McClaren sometimes appeared to have no plan at all, Capello could just be the man to have an option for every situation.

In nearly two decades of success in European football, Capello has employed a number of different systems - but Leonardo believes that the classic 4-4-2 system was the one that worked best when he was at Milan.

"Capello has changed a little over the last few years, but really the system he favours is the 4-4-2," the Brazilian said.

Marcel Desailly celebrates Milan's victory in the 1994 Champions League final
Capello's use of Desailly began the trend for a holding midfielder
"I think he got the best performances from AC Milan when they played that way. But he can adapt it to what he needs to be successful in England, and always give the players an opportunity to do their best

"The last few years might have convinced him that he can change his system but what is inside him is the 4-4-2. You can play it in different ways, anyway, with different players who can make the team more versatile."

But unlike Eriksson, who seemed to deviate from that formation with England only in desperation, Capello has the flexibility to adapt - and also innovate.

"You have to find a way to play according to the players you have in the squad," Capello himself says.

"Never stick to only one system. I think that is the biggest mistake you can make. Many people think there is one only good system but I think there are many."

It was he who first introduced to football an idea that is now virtually de rigueur for all successful teams - the "holding" midfielder in front of the defence.

Capello played Marcel Desailly in that role in the Milan side that won the 1994 European Cup, with a 4-0 demolition of Barcelona that is regarded as one of the greatest club performances in football history.

"He likes his 4-4-2," Blomqvist says, "but he will change things around depending on the players - he also tried 3-5-2 at Milan.

Fabio Capello
You have to find a way to play according to the players you have in the squad - never stick to one system

Fabio Capello
"I think it will depend for him on what type of players he has available and what they are used to. I'm sure he will experiment a little."

Last season, Capello had Real Madrid playing 4-2-3-1 and it brought them the title. But it also led to him being sacked for sending out a team perceived to lack flair.

However, Ziege argues that Capello's teams are not boring and insists there is room for style and panache.

"Capello likes his players to understand their defensive positions but when his teams attack he wants them to have their own ideas as well," the German said.

"I definitely would not say that players in Capello's teams are not allowed to express themselves.

"When I was at Milan we had George Weah, Leonardo and Zvonimir Boban - and they were all creative players who could really make a difference."


You could assemble probably the strongest-ever substitutes' bench from the list of players dropped by Capello throughout his career.

If he can drop the likes of Ronaldo, Alessandro del Piero, Francesco Totti, Edgar Davids, Paolo di Canio and David Beckham, none of England's current team are safe.

Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard
Either Gerrard or Lampard could be facing the axe
And Blomqvist feels that Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard might be the next name to add to the list - if they continue to fail to fulfil the new England manager's needs as a central midfield pairing.

"If Capello feels they will not fit together then he will not persevere with playing them. He will take the one who he feels improves the team most and the other will be on the bench," Blomqvist said.

"He will not be afraid to take that decision if it is not working out. Capello will play only the best players for his system and the right people to win matches."

According to Ziege, "Capello knows that it is not always the best individuals that make the best teams" and he will set about "finding out which combinations work" regardless of star names or profiles.

However, it may be that Gerrard and Lampard will finally gel under Capello - and Leonardo believes that is the case.

Capello will quickly be able to identify the right players and develop a system that works


"Players of their level can definitely play together in a team," he said. "There is no system that can kill a player.

"Gerrard and Lampard are very, very important players for England and they have played different systems in their careers so I don't think there is a problem.

"It is up to Capello as the coach to create a system and a way of playing to get the best from them."

Leonardo also believes that Capello is likely to select many of the same players that have underperformed of late, convinced that he can help them play to their potential.


"If you consider the players of this generation, Gerrard, Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, John Terry, Gary Neville, they are all incredible players but unfortunately they have not had good results," he said.

"Capello has a solid base of players to work with. He has time before the World Cup qualifiers to impose his vision on the players and convince them they are good enough to win something.

"It is normal for an incoming coach to assess the situation. But he will know a lot about the players already. And he will quickly be able to identify the right players and develop a system that works."


Capello has a fearsome reputation - he is a man who knows what he wants and he makes sure the players know it, too.

And, according to Ziege, he has good reason for his assurance.

"He is a fantastic manager," Ziege told BBC Sport.

"Capello wants to have his way and to be successful. If a player cannot fulfil what is being asked of him, and from my point of view that means playing successful football, then he will be dropped - it doesn't matter who they are.

Jesper Blomqvist
Capello is a really tough guy. It is basically his way or you are out

Jesper Blomqvist

"He has his ideas and his way to play football and he tries to convince people of those ideas but he is definitely not a difficult person to get on with."

Leonardo rates Capello as "one of the very best coaches I worked with" and likened him to legendary Brazilian Tele Santana, who was revered for mixing attractive football with a tough approach.

"I think Capello is similar, and I really like his style. He has a big personality and he is very, very strong in his ideas," Leonardo told BBC Sport.

"I think England need a character and personality like him. It is what they have been lacking in recent years."

Surprisingly, given Capello's hard-man image, Blomqvist revealed that playing under Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was more intimidating than playing under Capello at Milan.

Blomqvist told BBC Sport: "Yes, Capello is a really tough guy. He is not afraid to take people on and he is the one makes the decisions. It is basically Capello's way or you are out.

"But I think saying the players would fear him is a bit strong. Capello can be fiery, there is no doubt about that. But his personality is somewhere between Ferguson and Eriksson I would say."


McClaren's habit of referring to Gerrard and Terry as "Stevie G" and "JT" perhaps betrayed that he was too closely wedded to his charges.

Fair enough, some might say. After all, Gerrard is a Champions League winner and Terry has two Premier League titles while McClaren has won only the Carling Cup as a manager.

David Beckham and Fabio Capello
Beckham has first-hand knowledge of Capello's strict approach
But there were suggestions that "player power" influenced some of McClaren's tactical decisions - and he was reported to have consulted senior players on whether to recall Beckham, who he dropped after taking over from Eriksson.

Contrast that with Capello, who is ruthless in his single-mindedness and can point to seven league titles and a Champions League success to back up his perceived arrogance.

As a coach, Capello is on a different level from McClaren and, having played for the Italian at Milan, Blomqvist is certain the players will have "a lot of respect for him".

"He is strict and he does not really listen to players' input, whereas Eriksson was a more democratic coach," said Blomqvist.

"But the players will not be able to argue with Capello - he has too much knowledge. He is a master of tactics, formations and organisation."

Leonardo feels the players can learn a lot from Capello and must grab the chance to improve.

Christian Ziege
Capello will find a way to utilise the traditional strengths of the English players and transfer them to the international stage

Christian Ziege

"He is very intelligent technically and tactically, and the players must learn to understand him because he is a high-quality coach who wants to get the maximum out of each player.

"He has very strong ideas about how to achieve this and he pays incredible attention to small details. That is what makes the difference.

"He is very focused on what the players can do, what is the best for them and how to get more from them."

Communication and hard work is the key to that, says Ziege. And he expects the players to be left in no doubt as to what Capello expects of them tactically.

"He works hard at making sure his players are in the right positions at the right times throughout a game.

"He communicates this very clearly. He wants the team to keep its shape and for the players to play in the way he thinks about the game. He works at this all day long.

"In the Premier League the game is played with a high tempo and aggressive, with players giving their all for 90 minutes.

"But there is a big difference when they play for their national team. Capello will find a way to utilise the traditional strengths of the English players and transfer them to the international stage."

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