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Italian Capello's appointment as the England manager is a setback for producing future managers

By unknown | Jan 04, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Martin Samuel

For the umpteenth time, we watched The Italian Job over Christmas.

Do you know the reason it remains so enduringly popular? It shows us England as we would like it to be. No surprise it was made in 1969, the dying embers of an age when this country was cock of the walk. Its footballers were, quite literally, champions of the world and its pop groups redefined modern music.

"Well look happy, you stupid bastards," Charlie Croker tells his crew of troublingly likeable villains. "We won, didn't we?" He wasn't talking about the cinematic raid on Fiat's gold that is the heart of the Italian Job story. The cover for the robbery was a football match between England and Italy in Turin in which, we are to presume, England triumphed. That would not survive a decent script cut these days.

We may fondly imagine a gang could make off with 4 million pounds (about R56 million) in bullion on charm and a strong rear axle, but England's footballers winning in Italy?

Do me a favour. We like The Italian Job because we think it mirrors us, so we ignore its racial stereotypes, its comedy perverts and gangsters who carry out daring heists without guns and never stand back to get the big picture.

In that way it is much like another Italian job; the one that bowls into town with Fabio Capello at its head on Monday and spirits us through the traffic jam of hard work to a world in which, this time, merry England gets away with it after all.

Question the legitimacy of this arrangement and prepare to be shouted down. Confess to a mild disquiet about the way English football will now buy its way out of bother and you will be branded a xenophobe or a Little Englander, by those who prefer name-calling to proper debate.

Yet even those who have advocated foreign managers in the past (in my case Arsene Wenger or Jose Mourinho) or believe Capello is the best-qualified man for the job (which he is, by a street) should be uncomfortable about this new era for English football.

The international game shows where you are as a nation: the strength of your methods, philosophy and system. To buy knowledge from another country is like copying from a pupil at the next desk in an examination.

Remember Germany at the European Championship finals in 2000? Rubbish. England beat them with Kevin Keegan in charge and the next year, under Sven-Goran Eriksson, won 5-1 in Munich.

They were dismal at Euro 2004, too. Went home at the group stage and should have lost to Latvia. And what about France at the 2002 World Cup? Worst. Holders. Ever. Out with one point and no goals and beaten by Senegal.

Not much better in 2004, either, removed at the quarterfinal stage by Greece. And what did they do, these fine European nations, faced with such a crisis? Did they raid the bank vaults and scrabble for a marquee name to restore dignity to their game?

No. They plugged away with the products of their system until a suitable incumbent emerged.

Only England of the modern World Cup-winning nations indulges this arrogant presumption that a famous manager with a stellar CV is all that will do.

What is world class about Raymond Domenech, 11 years in Under-21 football before taking charge of France, or Joachim Low, the Germany coach whose time as assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann was preceded by spells with Austria Vienna, FC Tirol Innsbruck and Adanaspor, of Turkey?

Yet, when Brian Barwick, the FA chief executive, set out the criteria to succeed Steve McClaren, he stipulated a world-class level of achievement, instantly eliminating any manager from these shores. This creates longer-term problems.

"You are not going to be sick. You are not going to have your migraine. And everybody is going to sit in the back of the motor." Charlie Croker.

One of the reasons England are thought to need Capello is the presumption that only a coaching genius can keep the players in the manner to which they have been accustomed.

Any native manager now getting the job would instantly be considered a lame duck because he could not have the track record of Rafael Benitez or Mourinho, so why should he command the respect of players such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard? Nonsense.

Thierry Henry listens to Domenech, whose last club job concluded in 1997. Kaka, the best player in the world, happily takes orders from Dunga, the Brazil coach, who may have been a World Cup-winning captain but had no managerial experience when appointed in 2006.

We are creating a squad of monsters, for whom no English manager can ever be good enough and post-Capello, the same process will have to be implemented because an Englishman cannot hope to attain a track record comparable to the best foreign coaches in such a short space of time. Not at Wigan Athletic, anyway.

I know what some of you are thinking. What does it matter if England has an Italian manager? Who cared that the Ashes were regained with a Zimbabwean, Duncan Fletcher, pulling the strings?

At the Beijing Olympics, 16 of the 28 Great Britain teams are likely to have a performance director or senior coach from overseas. Yet, of course, football, as the national sport, is different.

English cricket sold out long ago by recruiting its finest players - Allan Lamb, Graeme Hick, Kevin Pietersen - from abroad. And while the Olympics is a big event, historically Olympic sports are not.

The reason we do not care that Sir Steve Redgrave earned three of his five gold medals with an East German coach is that, sadly, we do not care about rowing save for one week every four years. I'll prove it.

Name the eight athletes that won Olympic medals in a boat with Redgrave (answers below). And, if you cannot, do not presume to make significant comparisons between Olympic rowing and international football: because nobody forgets the XI that lifted the 1966 World Cup.

The England football team is an expression of where we are in the sport that matters most. To graft not only an Italian coach but an Italian staff and philosophy on to our ailing, failing system therefore makes us appear better than we are, just as Guus Hiddink's 3-5-2 set-up and Dutch methodology has given a false impression of the health of the game in Russia.

In both cases, money is the key. In the manner of England's wealthy FA, by financing Hiddink's employment, Russia's oligarchs hope to overcome a dismal record in the past seven tournaments (failing to qualify on three occasions and going out at the group stage four times). Our wish is to turn international football into an extension of our own, dear Premier League.

"Keats, there are more things to life than breaking and entering." Mr Bridger

If all that it boils down to is the richest associations securing the best managers, regardless of nationality, why bother with international football at all? Just have representative XIs sent in from each league.

Ruud van Nistelrooy used to play for Holland, then he played for England, now he plays for Spain. France, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe are pretty much stuffed but no matter, though, because I've got my England team here and it's a cracker.

Bit harsh on Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney stuck on the bench like that, but you can't look at passports as England manager. I've got my system and I'm sticking to it. What the hell, we might even win a few matches with this lot and that is all that matters, right?

Wrong. What matters is not the depth of your pockets but the merits of your game, and what is plain from the experiences of the past decade is that English football has fallen behind.

If it is producing the players, it does not know what to do with them; if it is producing the managers, it refuses to give them a chance.

Capello is a great manager, but the philosophy behind his appointment is bankrupt. It is cheating. If the declining state of the national game in this country left the FA with no manager capable of getting its players to the 2010 World Cup, then that is what English football deserved and, as painful as it might be, it should have been left to pick its own way along the pot-holed road to South Africa; because then we might wake up to our predicament.

And no doubt there will be those who watch international football without ever considering its soul and will aim the predictable insults, yet the real English arrogance, the real xenophobia is this feeling of entitlement, that we are in some way meant to be so much better than these foreigners and that when we are not, it is our right to use our disproportionate fortune to effect a victory using their intellect and insight and then claim and relay it as our own.

At various times between 1959 and 2000 there were workers producing the Mini cars that were the real stars of The Italian Job as far afield as Australia, Spain, Belgium, Chile, Portugal, South Africa, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yugoslavia and, you guessed it, Italy. Nobody considered it anything other than a British car, though, because the brain of the operation was the British Motor Corporation. So look happy, you stupid bastards. They won, didn't they? - The Times News Service


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