Back to square one

Back to square one

Underachievers on the big stage, England failed to derive the expected benefits during Capellos reign

Fabio Capello arrived in London four years ago with a sparkling CV but for all his club success he departed still barely able to speak English and with his adopted country rent with division and long shots for success at Euro 2012.

bitter pill: The sacking of John Terry (left) as skipper finally spelt an end to Fabio Capello’s unimpressive stint as England’s manager. AP

It is ironic that the his tenure was effectively ended by an interview given in his native Italian, when he said he disagreed completely with the FA's decision to strip John Terry of the England captaincy.

Capello, rich beyond dreams, with trophies and titles galore and looking forward to retirement as he turns 66 this year, felt undermined and betrayed. The FA seemingly felt the same way and England fans, unanimously if the phone-ins and social media are any indication, were left pleading for an English manager who they, and the players, can understand.

In these days of multinational Premier League players and managers it seems a petty point, and one that would no doubt have been conveniently overlooked if he had found success at the 2010 World Cup. But Capello's inability to master even the most basic vocabulary required for a manager's post-match press conference eventually came to symbolise his failure to get to grips with the English game and mentality.

Vastly experienced in the political machinations of Serie A and La Liga, he nevertheless seemed out on a limb when forced to deal with the vast baggage that comes with the job of England manager and was regularly left completely bemused by questions from journalists with a multitude of agendas.

Over-inflated expectation, deeply-entrenched media opinions, off-pitch distractions — more often than not related to John Terry — were part of the job that even his world-leading six million pounds a year salary seemingly left him ill-equipped to deal with.

"Rubbish", his supporters could cry. "Look at everything he won with AC Milan, Juventus, AS Roma and Real Madrid — he is undoubtedly a great manager. Look at his extraordinary qualification record."

England fans are used to that, though, not least under their first foreign manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, who also shone in the dress rehearsals only to suffer crippling stage fright when things got serious. Like most of his predecessors, Capello enjoyed a lengthy honeymoon period as, in what seems almost laughable now, the no-nosense boss brought a new sense of discipline to the squad that failed so miserably to make the Euro 2008 finals under Steve McClaren.

A hugely impressive 4-1 away win over Croatia set the tone in their qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup as they went on to win nine of their 10 games, finishing as Europe's leading scorers by a distance and were then handed a dream draw in South Africa alongside the United States, Algeria and Slovenia. It all went horribly wrong, however, and Capello was just as culpable as the multi-millionaires of the Premier League who were made to look decidedly ordinary by some of the lowest-ranked opponents they had ever faced in a tournament.

A 1-1 draw with a lively United States team was an acceptable start but the goalless draw with Algeria, when the north Africans looked the better team and England barely managed a shot, was a new low. Even then a straightforward two-goal win over Slovenia would have been enough to top the group and earn an enticing last-16 meeting with Ghana but England, leading 1-0, chose to kill time — a tactic that backfired spectacularly when the US snatched an injury-time win to top the group.

England's players left the pitch high-fiving and hugging each other with Capello beaming, yet the fans at home were screaming at their TVs in frustration, knowing full well that their team's appalling lack of ambition had earned them a dreaded meeting with old foes Germany. What followed was utter humiliation as, after suffering ill-fortune with the wrongful disallowing of a Frank Lampard goal for what would have been a 2-2 equaliser, they fell apart completely en route to a 4-1 defeat - their worst ever in a major tournament.

"We play well, Germany is a big team and we make some mistakes," Capello mumbled, failing again to show any understanding of the mood of the nation. In his defence things might have turned out very differently had Lampard's goal stood, and the Italian picked up the pieces well as, with largely the same group of players, England cruised through qualifying for Euro 2012.

However, unlike so often before when England are sent on their way with high hopes, preparations are in tatters.

Key striker Wayne Rooney is suspended for the first two games, Lampard and Steven Gerrard, the mainstay of England's midfield for a decade, are no longer automatic choices. Terry, who voiced concerns at rifts in the squad in South Africa, has been stripped of the captaincy again ahead of a court case base on allegations of racist abuse of the brother of his centre-back partner Rio Ferdinand.

So Capello walks away leaving the England team, the FA, the courts and the Twitterati to clean up the mess.

Harry Redknapp, fresh from his own court case having been cleared of tax evasion, is seemingly a shoo-in to replace him. The Tottenham Hotspur manager said last week that he could not spell and could barely write — but at least he is illiterate in English.