WHEN Fabio Capello named his final 23-man squad, he surprised most observers by plumping for experience over youthful vigour. Shaun Wright-Phillips (28) got the nod over Theo Walcott (21), Joe Cole (28) was preferred to Adam Johnson (22), despite scant playing time, while Jamie Carragher (32) was tempted out of exile for the campaign. One theory is that the Italian favoured older players because he believes those who try hardest are the ones who feel their time at the top is running out, for whom this represents a last chance to win the World Cup.
Well, for Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard et al, read Capello (right). When he accepted the Football Association’s advances in 2007 he indicated that this would be his last big job. Capello’s recent flirtation with Inter Milan suggests he may yet be tempted by a return to club management, but either way it certainly seems likely that this will be the 63-year-old’s one and only shot at winning what is arguably the most iconic prize in all of sport.
His already exemplary CV includes just about every honour apart from a World Cup winners’ medal. Wherever he has gone, the man from San Canzian d’Isonzo, near the border with Slovenia, has delivered his own brand of dispassionate excellence, winning the domestic league title for each of the four clubs he has managed. It is beyond question that he deserves to be considered one of the greatest managers of all time, but a glorious summer in South Africa would elevate him to an even more elite group of coaches.
Only one World Cup-winning manager, his compatriot Marcello Lippi, can boast the Champions League as well – the two most coveted honours at club and international level – but Capello stands to match that achievement. Few can claim to have enjoyed success with the consistency of the former AC Milan, Roma, Juventus and Real Madrid boss. Indeed, by taking on his role with England – whose supporters frequently combine world-weary pessimism with irrational expectation – Capello risked tarnishing his unblemished record.
That in itself should be a source of encouragement for England. A reputed salary in excess of £5m cannot have deterred, but Capello would not have aligned himself with a team he did not feel had a strong chance of delivering the international glory he craves.
Reaching the semi-finals might be the widely accepted target for the class of 2010. But if that deeply lined, granite face is to crack into a smile, Capello may have to ensure his one excursion into the international arena is as glorious as his spells in Italy and Spain, and bring home the World Cup.