England disarray as Capello departs
Timing of Fabio Capello's decision to resign as England manager still perplexes
John Terry and his involvement in the England squad is still a big issue
Spurs manager Harry Redknapp is the clear favorite to succeed Capello
LONDON -- Another fine mess for the national team. "CAPELLO QUITS OVER RACE ROW AS JURY CLEARS REDKNAPP." The Daily Mail's headline on Thursday ran to nine words but they were enough to contain almost every drop of slop. England's captain demoted by the Football Association until a charge of racially aggravated public disorder -- which John Terry has always denied -- has been heard in July; England's manager resigning after publicly disagreeing with the FA's decision; the favorite to succeed Fabio Capello, the Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp, being found innocent of tax evasion a few hours earlier.
The tabloid press is reeling like a dumped lover annoyed to have been beaten to the punch, at the moment. Capello's decision, four months ahead of the European Championship finals, is being treated by several papers as a disgraceful abandonment, despite the fact that in the days preceding it the newsstands resembled shop fronts on Black Friday: great big capital letters declaring that he MUST GO! for having last weekend told the Italian television company RAI that he did not think it fair that Terry had been stood down as captain before being tried by law.
Questions have been asked about Capello's motive in resigning, which he says he was forced in to because of the damage done to his authority. It seems out of character for someone who has previously managed at distinctly hierarchical clubs such as AC Milan (during Silvio Berlusconi's first and not-exactly-hands-off reign) and Real Madrid without this kind of argument. It is also wildly out of kilter with Capello's stance on captaincy since being appointed England manager in 2008. The last time Terry was relieved of his duties, when news of his alleged affair with teammate Wayne Bridge's former girlfriend broke almost exactly two years ago, it was Capello's own decision, and one he seemed keen to make known had been made simply to keep the peace.
"To me, being a leader is more important than being the captain," he said at the time. "[Terry] will be a leader without wearing the armband." Perhaps we should have realized that his feelings about the armband's importance had changed when he reinstalled Terry as captain last year, declaring "one year's punishment is enough," but it is still a little hard to believe that he resigned his post simply because John Terry will not get to snap a band of elastic around his shirt sleeve in June, or because he did not have the final say. You could even argue that in making the decision itself, the FA addressed the potential for conflict in the dressing room and enabled Capello to protect his relationship with Terry.
It is important that the FA does not come out of this with too much credit, however, because it has fudged the issue. In 2000 it was decisive: Leeds United players Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer were not to be considered for England duty until they had been tried for affray and grievous bodily harm with intent, and when Woodgate was found guilty of the former, less serious offense in 2001, the FA did not restore his eligibility until after the 2002 World Cup. It scoffed at the suggestion that Bowyer -- at the time a star of Leeds' living-the-dream team -- might want some sort of recompense for the matches he had been forced to miss before being cleared of both charges.
This time around the FA dithered, opting to wait for the outcome of the trial -- letting Terry remain available for this month's friendly against Holland in the meantime -- but was panicked when the court date was moved back to July. Chelsea had requested that the case be heard after the season's end so that Terry, who remains captain at Stamford Bridge, could concentrate on his club commitments, which may go some way to explaining why Terry did not offer to stand down in order to avoid compromising anybody in the England camp. Ultimately, however, if the FA had been consistent with its own precedents, it would not have needed such magnanimity from so unlikely a source.
As well as bidding Capello farewell, the papers have busied themselves with campaigning for Redknapp to take over (impressively, The Daily Mirror did both in two words, splashing with 'ARRY VEDERCI). Redknapp has long been tipped to take over from Capello, who was due to leave the post this summer in any case, and satisfies the primary criterion of being nothing like the man he replaces. He is English, essentially, and fond of the media. He is the average sports hack's dream.
There is a slight danger, though, that in the frothy excitement of imagining what Redknapp might be able to achieve (even if given charge of the England team for this summer only), we'll forget what we were asking for after the World Cup in 2010. Then, I was not alone in suggesting that England needed to write off its lunatic hopes that each new international tournament was the one, and instead focus on developing its younger players so that, further down the line, they might be in a position realistically to compete with the hypnotic seduction of Spain or the zipping creativity of Germany. The chatter about his capabilities is by no means misplaced -- managing England is not down entirely to man-management, but given the perennial lack of choice in some positions, it is pivotal -- but it is a free pass for Redknapp, and that might make him less, not more, radical. Why not have one last go with the old banger, see if you can't get the engine to purr as people always thought it should?
Redknapp said Friday that he was "flattered" by the support for his appointment but that it was not straightforward, given his role at Spurs. It is hard to imagine that someone should want to swap White Hart Lane -- where Tottenham are currently third in the Premier League table -- for a role that seems only ever to end in sledgehammer headlines (and, rightly or wrongly, dented credibility). Nonetheless, Redknapp has previously seemed keen to manage his country and has the backing of the press, several England players (via Twitter) and a number of fellow Premier League managers (which will no doubt delight the Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy). He may not speak fine English, but he will have no problem making himself understood to the players. Seems to be his job for the taking.
The England U-21 and GB Olympic coach has been placed in interim charge for the Holland game and has served as something of an apprentice to Capello over the past few years. He was a popular England captain, but the fact that stories of an alleged racist incident involving Paul Ince from almost 20 years ago have been dragged up suggests he does not share the same support as Redknapp.
When the FA chairman David Bernstein said that "We want someone who can inspire the team, and inspire the nation, but he does not have to be English," it seemed to be a finger in O'Neill's direction, but the Sunderland manager was quick to rule himself out of contention. Having been overlooked in favor of Steve McClaren in 2006, you can't blame him.
Has been linked with the England job and with replacing Redknapp at Spurs, but says he is happy at Newcastle and that's easy to believe -- he's already done fantastically well to reverse public opinion of him. If he were to be made England manager, he would not get the kind of reception he go on arrival at St James' Park, but he would most likely be considered one of the inferior candidates.
Had the FA accepted Capello's offer to leave after the World Cup in 2010, there is almost no doubt that Hodgson - freshly appointed as Liverpool manager having led Fulham to the Europa League final -- would have been in the frame. His candidacy is rather less credible now.
Manager of the England women's team with a no-nonsense attitude and a reputation for bringing young players through. No, I don't imagine so, either.
Georgina Turner is a freelance sports writer and co-author of Jumpers for Goalposts: How Football Sold its Soul.
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