Thursday, August 12, 2010

Beckham exclusive

Fabio Capello’s decision to cut David Beckham adrift was an ITV exclusive. Well, bully for us!

Getting ‘a good story’ is so much a part of the psyche of journalism that we sometimes lose sight of the content. At 35, Beckham was never realistically going to make a contribution to the European Championship qualifying bid, but ITV’s Gabriel Clarke was the first reporter with the gumption to put the question.

Now, it’s a bigger story than the players who are going to make a contribution.

There is understandable surprise that Capello didn’t broach the subject with Beckham privately. Gabriel’s interview was conducted on Monday, and he fully expected the news to be ‘out’ before it was broadcast in the run-up to the Hungary game. But it seems that nobody at the FA thought to warn the Beckham camp that Capello had taken the decision.

In the era of 24-hour ‘rolling’ news, these tales quickly develop into issues, then controversies, then affairs or ‘gates’. Beckhamgate will probably now lead to demands for apologies and resignations and public executions. Thankfully, Beckham himself has enough dignity not to turn it into a war – and enough media savvy to realise he is being retired with the moral high ground, and probably a farewell match at Wembley.

The ongoing concerns for the FA are the continuing repercussions of their manager’s broken English. So little of any significance comes out of Capello’s interviews that the media are feasting on the few comprehensible morsels. Steven Gerrard and Joe Hart spoke superbly in the wake of Wednesday’s win, but their boss is becoming a liability.

Maybe Beckham should be retained as an official spokesman.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In defence of Fabio Capello

I have been a Fabio Capello bore for a year or more now. Ask the people I work with, and they will tell you they’ve long since tired of me questioning his tactics, his approach and his utterances.

But, as somebody who wanted him burnt at the stake when most wished him knighted, let me be the first to defend him.

The turning of the tide against him reminds me of the reaction to Europe’s Ryder Cup defeat two years ago. You can’t appoint Nick Faldo as captain, then expect him to be as charming and garrulous as Sam Torrance. Capello is Capello – cool, distant and single-minded. The moment he panders to public opinion, he is lost.

Let me put my case against him first. Despite the impressive results, I question how often England played well enough in qualification for Capello’s favoured team and system to be good enough to make an impression at the World Cup finals. I think he wasted the nine months between qualifying and arriving in South Africa.

I believe his failure to master the language made the need for a respected Italian-speaking go-between like Ray Wilkins an essential.

We hired a strategist with no relevant communication skills. Worse still, he couldn’t do what Bert van Marwijk did and handle the egos within his camp. He didn’t know how to knock heads together in English.

The farcical day that the seven players cut from the original squad received phone-calls from Capello and Franco Baldini betrayed his lack of man management. They should have been told to their faces.

The botched appeal to Paul Scholes and the mixed messages to the goalkeepers were symptomatic of the problem. And as for coach Beckham and the Capello Index....

But what I’ve always actually liked about Capello is the distance he has put between himself and the rest of the English game. He has no favourites in management or media, he has been the perfect antidote to the ‘pally’ style of Steve McClaren, he won respect and a healthy fear from his millionaire charges. He doesn’t do TLC.

Sadly, his serial stubbornness has led to his biggest mistake of all. Last weekend, he said a belated sorry without shouldering any blame. The Rafa Benitez school of management. He has done things his way, and yet it wasn’t his fault. It was the players – well, try telling them that, Fabio.

So now we are invited to boo him. No, he didn’t actually say that... but then he says so little that is wholly comprehensible in his interviews and press conferences that we cling onto every identifiable word and try to attach some intelligence and significance to it.

It’s a mess, but it’s a mess you either trust the original Fabio Capello to clean up or you fire him and get someone different.

We have made our bed...