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Last Updated: Monday, 17 December 2007, 17:49 GMT
Capello enters lions' den

By Tom Fordyce

FA chief executive Brian Barwick squinted into the glare of a thousand camera flashes with the facial expression of a man trying to work out the square root of 573.

"We wanted a winner with a capital W," he barked, as photographers threw themselves at the man beside him like supplicants at the feet of the messiah.

Fabio Capello
Capello wonders how to spend his 4.8m a year

"That was the template. This is the man. Fabio Capello."

England's new coach blinked at the bombast and looked out at the media pile-on in front of him. "I am very proud and hon-or-ried," he said.

Barwick flinched. Before him were ranked the big beasts of the media jungle, almost visibly salivating at the prospect of fresh managerial meat being thrown to them - and yet, with his very first sentence, Capello was wilfully exposing his vulnerable flank.

Rumours had circulated all week about the extent of Capello's English vocabulary. Now here he was, a fresh-faced interpreter by his side, coming out with the sort of broken chat you'd expect to hear from a pedalo salesman in Rimini.

He turned to his interpreter and rumbled away in his native Italian.

"He says that, when he meets up with the squad in a month's time, he will be able to speak English," relayed his assistant.

It seemed an extraordinary claim. Images came to mind of Capello wandering round his mansion in Lugano, a Linguaphone cassette-player dangling round his neck and a set of flash-cards in his back pocket.

Sure, he might be able to learn how to ask the way to the train station, or where the tourist information office was - but to speed-learn sufficient English to turn around the fortunes of a national team going backwards fast?

I never wanted to manage Italy

Fabio Capello

The media jackals licked their lips. In an open letter to a national newspaper on Monday morning, PR guru Max Clifford had written: "Dear Fabio, you are going into a war zone."

The first sortie was on its way.

"Buongiorno Fabio. In your long managerial career, you've not bought a single English player. Or in fact a British one. Why is that?"

There was an expectant pause. Would the bullet find its target? Capello, after all, once said of the press: "I hate questions which have already an answer in them, the one the interviewer would like to hear."

He stared straight back at his pursuer. "When I was a scout at Milan, I recommended Ray Wilkins and Mark Hateley to the coach. I also worked closely with David Beckham at Real Madrid."

The next attack came winging in a second later.

"Signor Capello - if you had the choice, would you rather manage England or Italy?"

Once again, the reply was instant and unwavering.

"I never wanted to manage Italy. Those close to me know that very well, with all respect to the Italian team who I played for and greatly admire."

Not a sign of anger, not a glimmer of contempt from the man who once said of the media: "Why should I waste my time talking to people who are clearly less intelligent than me?"

Brian Barwick
Barwick holds forth at Capello's unveiling

Barwick had earlier made enthusiastic reference to Capello's successful stint at "Joo-ventus".

As a spiky question flew in about Capello's reported salary of 4.8m a year, the perspiring FA chief decided to throw himself into the barb's path.

No matter that, with his shining pate and lumpy pinstripe suit, he looked like a 1940s Minister for Wartime Austerity. With his glossy new import by his side, Barwick suddenly came over like P Diddy in Bloomingdale's.

"It's important to realise that the FA's gross income in the next four-and-a-half years may well be in excess of a billion pounds," he trumpeted.

"The money is a secondary thing," added Capello through his interpreter, which is perhaps easy to say when you're about to trouser 13,150 a day until 2012, with a bonus of 5m if you bring home the World Cup.

And what about the arrival of his backroom team of four fellow Italians, who between them will be costing the FA an extra 1.4m a year?

Was this not the footballing equivalent of buying an extremely expensive gadget for Christmas, only to unwrap it and find that it won't work without four additional batteries (not supplied)?

"I believe when one manages, you need to be surrounded by people who understand you and your methods," he stated calmly.

It was as if a benign barricade had been erected. No matter what direction the baying pack attacked from, there seemed no way through.

606: DEBATE

At his own unveiling, previous incumbent Steve McClaren had attempted to court the media in a desperately transparent manner, grinning like a nervous orangutan, employing Terry Venables to flutter his eyelids at his pals on the tabloids and willingly baring his own rump at the mere sniff of a positive article.

Five years earlier, Sven Goran Eriksson had breezed into town like a glamorous foreign exchange student and charmed everyone with a succession of platitudes and his exotic Swedish lilt.

Neither approach had worked in the long term. But, as Capello posed for stern-faced photos while the flinty-eyed Barwick mangled his palm, there was a sense that the new boy's strategy just might.

McClaren had so little authority over his players that they reportedly rugby-tackled him in training. Sven gave them so much leeway that their wives made a bigger impact at the last World Cup than the team did.

Capello might be overpaid. He might be as short of English as his new side are of world-class goalkeepers.

But if he controls his players like he controlled the wilful British media, he'll be in with a chance.



SEE ALSO
Learning the lingo
18 Dec 07 |  Magazine
Capello unveiled as England coach
17 Dec 07 |  Internationals
Capello 'can win England a title'
17 Dec 07 |  Internationals
Capello 'to get best out of team'
16 Dec 07 |  Internationals
England challenge excites Capello
15 Dec 07 |  Internationals
Capello named new England manager
14 Dec 07 |  Internationals
Capello's backroom boys
14 Dec 07 |  Internationals
On the trail of Capello
15 Dec 07 |  Internationals
Comment: England's best man
14 Dec 07 |  Football
Mihir Bose blog
14 Dec 07 |  Sport Homepage
Ince upset by FA's Capello move
14 Dec 07 |  Internationals
What they say about Capello
13 Dec 07 |  Internationals
The players' view of Capello
13 Dec 07 |  Internationals
Who is Fabio Capello?
13 Dec 07 |  Internationals
Capello in pictures
13 Dec 07 |  Europe
Ten to Tackle - Capello special
13 Dec 07 |  Fun and Games


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