Capello brings a fear factor to his role as England boss
By Mandeep Sanghera
The euphoria of England qualifying for the 2010 World Cup with an emphatic win over Croatia at Wembley encapsulated what manager Fabio Capello has achieved after the despondency at the same stadium in November 2007.
Nearly two years ago under his predecessor Steve McClaren, against the same opponents, England lost 3-2 and failed to reach Euro 2008.
McClaren watched on in the pouring rain under his umbrella - a sight that saw him cruelly dubbed the Wally with the Brolly - before he was sacked to leave England desperately in search of a saviour.
Capello - puzzled by the under-achievement of the so-called golden generation of English players - threw his hat in the ring as the man to help the side fulfil their potential and was duly appointed in December 2007.
ENGLAND UNDER CAPELLO
England 2-1 Switzerland
France 1-0 England
England 2-0 USA
Trinidad & Tobago 0-3 England
England 2-2 Czech Republic
Andorra 0-2 England (WCQ)
Croatia 1-4 England (WCQ)
England 5-1 Kazakhstan (WCQ)
Belarus 1-3 England (WCQ)
Germany 1-2 England
Spain 2-0 England
England 4-0 Slovakia
England 2-1 Ukraine (WCQ)
Kazakhstan 0-4 England (WCQ)
England 6-0 Andorra (WCQ)
Holland 2-2 England
England 2-1 Slovenia
England 5-1 Croatia (WCQ)
If anyone can Capello can - or rather if he can't then no-one can - was the popular view on whether the cultured Italian, who had one of the most distinguished managerial CV's in the business, could lead England to glory.
Capello has won nine league titles with four different clubs in Italy and Spain as well as leading AC Milan to European Cup glory.
Since his arrival, he has picked the England side up off its knees and instigated a turnaround which has left them South Africa-bound with eight wins from as many Group Six games.
The journey Capello is taking England on has its most defining moments ahead but it began with the 63-year-old self-admittedly getting things moving by rebuilding the shattered confidence of the players.
He also quickly laid down a code of discipline as he enforced a set or rules including the requirement of the players to eat together, to take pride in their appearance and restricting mobile phones usage to the hotel room.
A regimental approach, one of its aims was to foster a team spirit and professionalism. So far it has had the desired effect in galvanising some of the world's top players who had previously failed to gel.
"You would have to be a fool not to see how much the team has gone on from that point two years ago," said England and Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard.
"That was a low point in all of our careers and in England's recent history.
"It was a team of very good individuals who were very low on confidence, on that night and also in other parts of the competition at certain times.
"Now we have got a lot more confidence, we have moved on a great deal as a team, although not as far as we want to go yet."
He keeps all the players on their toes - We know we have to play well every game
England striker Wayne Rooney
With an impressive playing career behind him, Capello has also managed some of the biggest stars in world football with stints at AC Milan, Real Madrid and Rome.
"You are seeing greater belief on the part of the players and I think it bodes down to one thing," said Italian journalist and author Gabriele Marcotti, who has written an in-depth biography on Capello.
"The fact that if Fabio Capello tells you something - because of who he is - maybe as a player you are going to embrace it and accept it more than if Steve McClaren tells you."
McClaren was criticised for referring to certain players by their nicknames and sometimes appeared to take their views on board too much as he sometimes seemed to manage by committee.
That cannot be said of Capello. He has a fierce demeanour, his manner authoritarian, his requirements for discipline bordering on perfection and when it comes to decisions there is no question he does it his way and you cross him at your peril.
"I realised I wasn't punctual enough but, when I come to the England camp, you've got to be punctual," said the improving England striker Carlton Cole.
"It's your neck on the line. Fabio doesn't stand for it and he will embarrass you in front of your team-mates if you're not early for something.
"On my first trip, I got a bit of a tasting (rollicking) but I'm not telling the story of what happened. I'll keep it between myself and the team."
He does have greater flexiblilty than he is sometimes given credit for and that is one of the secrets to his success
This fear factor Capello exudes is not just off the pitch but also extends itself to the pitch.
Whereas certain players appeared untouchable under previous England managers, the players know that that is not the case under the present regime.
"He's probably the first England manager I have played under where you know if you don't play well there's a chance you are not going to be in the starting XI the next game," said Wayne Rooney.
"He keeps all the players on their toes. We know we have to play well every game.
"He is a fearsome man, strong, passionate and he wants to win."
However, it would be a disservice to Capello to says his success up to now is based solely on the principles of fear and dictatorship.
The way he has instilled confidence and belief in his players is also down to clever man-management, experience and, as Marcotti explains, the skill to read a situation or dressing room and provide the solution.
"Capello may have a tough guy reputation but he is also a pragmatic manager," said Marcotti.
"Having followed his career and spoken to a lot of people that have worked with him in different decades throughout his evolution, one thing you have to give Capello credit for is the ability to do what's best at that moment for the team.
"If Capello felt things around the England team were too tense he would make sure the mood was more jocular and relaxed, maybe even calling players by their nickname like McClaren did.
"He's not averse to going against his image if he believes it is in the interests of the team to do so.
"You don't win the amount of trophies he has with all the different teams he has managed and with the difficulties that he has had to overcome by affirming your dogma and being inflexible.
"He does have greater flexiblilty than he is sometimes given credit for and that is one of the secrets to his success."
While Capello has provided the drill sergeant approach he has also balanced it with a protection, encouragement and support for his players - along with his tactical nous - that has resulted in a qualifying campaign without the usual drama England usually serve up.
He has stated from the offset his main task is for his players to reproduce the form they show for their clubs and in training in an England shirt and to a degree that has began to achieve that.
And, now that they are a tougher proposition for most teams and the players have been healed and hardened up, he appears to be slowly increasing the intensity of his demands.
The signs are promising as to whether he can now lead England to World Cup success and, even though hopes and expectations will probably exceed reality, at least the team's players and fans can now dream again.
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