Capello: Heading out of the exit doorThe convoluted and frequently controversial history of the England manager's job has witnessed plenty of remarkable episodes since Walter Winterbottom first assumed the role in 1946, but none, absolutely none, can surely compare to the swirling torrent of drama, intrigue and pure unadulterated shock that enveloped the Football Association and English football on Wednesday.
Where to start with a day that saw Harry Redknapp cleared of two counts of tax evasion at Southwark Crown Court to leave him favourite to replace Fabio Capello in the summer, only for the Italian to later hand in his resignation following talks with the FA regarding its decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy, and his outspoken reaction to said decision. Sprawling novels have been based on less material.
Over the years, England have seen Don Revie quit to become UAE manager and sell his story to the Daily Mail, incurring a 10-year ban in the process, they have seen Glenn Hoddle fall on his sword following unguarded and inexcusable comments about disabled people, they have seen an emotional Kevin Keegan resign outside the dressing room at the old Wembley. But nothing compares to a day that will loom large in the national football consciousness for years to come. For better or worse, it will represent another dramatic demarcation in the history of "the impossible job".
It was a day, a dark day, that witnessed the end of what had become a horribly loveless marriage, as a manager was forced to leave his role due to his support for a captain stripped of the honour because he was due to stand trial for allegedly racially abusing an opponent. How very depressing. And not just any manager: a manager whom the FA invested £6 million a year in, a manager who is indisputably one of the game's modern greats, who has won trophies with Milan, Juventus, Real Madrid and Roma. A manager who boasts the finest win percentage of any to have been appointed by the FA down the years.
But while Capello entered the job in December 2007 with the expectation that he would be the saviour and redeemer of English football — an Italian with an iron will who would sweep away the pathetic bonhomie of the Steve McClaren era and get our boys playing — his resignation ensures that, in England if not abroad, his reputation is radically diminished.
Plenty of this is his own fault of course — the quite dreadful World Cup campaign in 2010 was reason enough to see him gone, issues over the captaincy were bungled, while resigning on a point of principle over Terry is just bizarre — and he deserves much of the criticism coming his way for his sporting failings and obstinacy over the Terry issue.
But in a broader sense Capello can hardly be held fully accountable for the persistently evident deep-rooted failings of the English game, nor the refusal of some sections of the media to treat him fairly. Remember that ridiculous 'Jackass' headline in The Sun?
Of course, the English press have treated Capello with suspicion for some time, suggesting that he never "got" England and English culture. It was firmly in the background during the debate over how his lack of language skills undermined the process of taking the captaincy away from Rio Ferdinand and back to Terry in March 2011, and has now been articulated clearly and unquestionably in the wake of his exit.
The Guardian, of all newspapers, starts one report this morning with the line: "Fabio Capello never bothered to learn much English, or much about England. His £6m a year was not enough to interest him greatly in the culture of the country whose national game he was hired to revive by winning a major international tournament." As if obtaining membership to the National Trust, reading up on Chaucer and developing a fancy for fish and chips was a prerequisite to success at international level.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter even had the pomposity to claim that Capello "failed to grasp ... the unique psychology of the English professional." As if an English professional was inherently more complex than, or in some decisive way distinct from, a foreign counterpart.
Meanwhile, Brian Woolnough's opening gambit in the Daily Star requires no further comment: "[Capello's exit is] the best thing to happen to English football since England won the World Cup."
The media have set their stall out fairly decisively that an Englishman must be next on the agenda — and were joined in that by Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand on Twitter, and a rabid Barry Fry on Sky Sports News. Of course, the line of succession was firmly secured following Wednesday's news that Redknapp had been cleared at Southwark Crown Court.
At times it almost felt as though the jury tasked with assessing Redknapp's case did not just have a man's freedom and reputation in their hands, but the very future of English football. Given he is the overwhelming favourite to step into the breach following Capello's exit, that may well have been the case.
There appears very little wriggle-room for suggestions that the FA may turn elsewhere, or indeed for any hope on Tottenham's part that Redknapp may feel he is better served by remaining an employee of Daniel Levy, who he praised so fulsomely in front of the massed media yesterday.
The decision is all but made, and indeed for the past two seasons Redknapp has assumed the aura of an heir to the throne. Repeatedly asked in club press conferences about whether he would take the job, Redknapp stuck to the patriotic refrain that "it would be hard to say 'no'" to the opportunity to manage his country. With Capello gone, and having been cleared by the courts, there appears to be little standing in his way. Certainly the grateful media will welcome him with open arms.
In fact, it seems that all there is left is to cry: 'God for Harry, England and Saint George!'
Actually, that allusion to Shakespeare's Henry V is probably instructive in the case of Redknapp and England.
Like the aforementioned king - whose Agincourt speech informs so much of the English obsession with passion and spirit, qualities that are furiously demanded of a national coach yet are lazily said to be lacking in foreigners - Redknapp is an inspirer of men. A manager who relies on fostering loyalty and pricking emotion rather than cold hard reason or tactical nous. We are talking about a manager, after all, of whom it was said by Rafael van der Vaart: "There are no long and boring speeches about tactics." A manager who once guided Roman Pavlyuchenko with the half-time instruction to "f*****g run around a bit". Hey, it worked at Agincourt, didn't it? Well, that and the longbows.
He is also an avuncular man who courts popularity with the press and puts an arm round his players — rather like a certain Steve 'JT and Lamps' McClaren in fact, completing the cyclical process after the harder, more robust Capello, who ruled with an iron fist initially but came to be seen as distant, cold and unyielding as his reign unfolded. Early Doors anticipates developments in three years when the public calls for the introduction of a foreign disciplinarian to sort out the mess left behind when 'Arry gets the boot.
This is not to disparage Redknapp, his style or his achievements: they have brought him impressive success. Having won the FA Cup with Portsmouth and taken Spurs into the Champions League, and possibly to the title in what remains of this season, there is absolutely no doubt that he is the finest English manager of the current era. Note: the finest English manager.
Whatever misgivings you may have of him as a man, his name has been cleared in a court of law and — though his defence painted him as something of an illiterate fool who can't write out a team-sheet, and at times almost appeared to be bringing the 'dog ate my homework' excuse into the 21st Century — there is no doubting he, of all the English managers around, has the best credentials for the job.
Quite whether it would be the correct career move is open to debate given he has just seen one of the great coaches of modern times chewed up and spat out by a job that has engulfed so many, but the press and players want him, and it is he they shall get.
Given he is English, Redknapp is likely to be afforded the time and space to give it a good go, but if even a coach like Capello can be humbled by it and his reputation damaged, his failings brutally exposed and his approach mocked, then perhaps it is called the impossible job for a reason.
COMING UP: It's fair to say there will be plenty of reaction to last night's news, and the FA are holding a press conference at 12pm to shine some light on to the issue so make sure you stick around for that. Eurospot also returns at 1pm with a look at some countries that have thrived despite chaotic preparations for major tournaments.
Otherwise, you can take a peek at our Tactical Brain for another good insight into the past weekend in the Premier League, while the second part of our exclusive interview with Avram Grant will be on site at lunchtime.