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Buoyant Capello leads from the front

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Phil McNulty | 19:42 GMT, Friday, 5 September 2008

Barcelona

England coach Fabio Capello was in expansive - almost joyous - mood in the same Barcelona room where Steve McClaren shrunk, with the Italian giving the most dynamic personal performance of his short reign.

It was in the bowels of the Olympic Stadium 18 months ago that McClaren cracked under the strain of hideous personal abuse from fans and the sheer strain of a faltering Euro 2008 campaign.

McClaren cut his media conference short with the infamous words: "Gentlemen - if you want to write whatever you want to write you can write it" - and of course everybody did.

He followed that up with a light-hearted (hopefully) request for the England coach driver to mow down one of his tabloid critics as he stepped out in front of the team bus leaving the stadium.

Capello cut an altogether more authoritative figure than his cruelly-lampooned predecessor as he delivered an assured, humourous and occasionally combative performance as the curtain-raiser to the first competitive game of his international coaching career.

Fine words and positive body language are no guarantees of the performance the nation expects here in the late summer heat of Barcelona - namely an improvement on the stodgy 3-0 win delivered in a poisonous, spiteful atmosphere here last year.

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But it was as if the scent of competition had got the juices flowing in Capello. He was ready for all questions and demonstrated it by even acting as his own translator for questions from the Spanish media.

England's players strolled to training across the track where Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell struck gold 16 years ago. And while England should not have to hit the gold standard to dispose of Andorra, a comprehensive win will clear the heads nicely for Wednesday's key meeting with Croatia in Zagreb.

A member of Her Majesty's Media has tried - without any discernible success - to fire up Capello's interest in Worcestershire County Cricket Club, but he showed some promise here.

Questions were either met with a straight bat, tickled down to fine leg or driven firmly through the covers in the case of an inquiry about Harry Redknapp's criticism of England's performance against the Czech Republic.

He was as decisive and positive as he will expect his England players to be when they face Andorra.

Are you nervous: "No." Next question.

And what about pressure? A shrug and a laugh: "I have always had pressure and the pressure was very strong at the clubs I have managed because it was one club one city.

"Here the pressure is long. You have to wait, wait, wait between matches and think a lot."

This may be a pressure point for Capello, but if he feels the strain it does not show.

The major talking point has been Capello's mystifying exclusion of Michael Owen from a team short of goals - although it was not mystifying to him.

"I know Michael Owen scores goals but I saw him in his last game. I checked him very well and decided he was not fit."

Capello added: "This is my opinion" - complete with a smile that carried a hint of menace that ruled out any further serious inquiries on the grounds it would be the equivalent of smashing your head into the nearby wall.

He also showed a growing appreciation of what is required of England's players when asked about Jamie Carragher's contentious assertion that losing for Liverpool hurt more than losing for England.

"If you do not have the heart for the national team stay home. To be proud of the badge is very important, " said the Italian as he jabbed a finger towards the Three Lions crest on his England training top.

There were strong words for Portsmouth boss Redknapp, who delivered fierce criticism of Capello's team after what he called a "diabolical" 2-2 draw against the Czech Republic - accusing him of "killing" Steven Gerrard by playing him out of position.

The rough translation was this - he does not criticise Premier League teams he has watched so Premier League managers should not criticise his England team.

To use a current FA buzz-word he wants respect.

And whereas McClaren left this room in haste last time England were here, this time FA director of communications Adrian Bevington could barely stop Fabio as he happily waited and waved at a Spanish journalist to ask him one final question.

He looked to be relishing the occasion and the pressure of knowing England does not just expect victory against Andorra - it expects a bit of a thrashing to be handed out.

Capello wants victory first and the thrashing will be a welcome bonus.

Conditions could hardly be better for the players as Barcelona basks in warm temperatures, a sharp contrast to the rain and wind they left behind in London.

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The FA's departing chief executive Brian Barwick was an interested by-stander at England's training session, and rightly so after even being excluded from the traditional pre-match handshakes against the Czech Republic.

He looked in good spirits as his reign draws to a close, hoping England can get at least four points from their next two games to send him towards the end on a high.

Barwick was the driving force behind Capello's appointment, which has yet to produce the sort of performance the FA had hoped for when he arrived at Soho Square.

But the coach looked in the mood for victory as he strode on to the training ground to join his players.

He has provided the words, actions and positive messages - now it is up to his England players to shake off the shackles of fear that grip them too often and start their World Cup 2010 campaign with victory.

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