In building his roster, Capello kept things equally simple. He identified his three difference-makers—Gerrard, superstar forward Wayne Rooney and rangy, athletic defender Rio Ferdinand—and surrounded them with complementary players. He made sure that even his best players knew no spot on the team was guaranteed, as some had been under Eriksson and McClaren. And, in perhaps his biggest feat, Capello found a way to deploy Gerrard and Lampard effectively at the same time, a previously intractable problem since both are attacking central midfielders with their clubs. (Lampard now plays centrally alongside a holding midfielder, while Gerrard and Rooney alternate through the middle and wide left in a more attacking position.)
The results have been exhilarating. During World Cup qualifying Rooney outperformed his rivals for world's best player—Argentina's Lionel Messi and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo—scoring nine goals in nine games. In Capello's second qualifier, England romped to a 4--1 win at Croatia, the same team that had eliminated it from Euro 2008, kick-starting a campaign that saw the Three Lions win their first eight games and seal a World Cup bid with two matches to spare. "We improved a lot," says Capello. "We recovered the confidence we had lost."
Two years after Capello's arrival, you rarely hear talk of spaghetti twirlers or the black arts. In fact, as England's June 12 World Cup opener against the U.S. approaches, Capello is drawing comparison with the greatest England manager of all. "I'm old enough to tell you, he's the nearest thing I've come across to Alf Ramsey," says Martin Tyler, the longtime British TV commentator who will be ESPN's lead play-by-play man in South Africa. "He has these players exactly where he wants them. They respect him totally. He doesn't let them get too close, so there's no familiarity breeding contempt, and he's an outstanding football person. There's no law saying you have to have someone from your own country to run the team."
Capello is writing his own rules at this point, anyway, and no matter what happens in South Africa, you can't help but admire the audacity of his vision. Here is a man who could have played it safe, who could have simply replaced his rival, Lippi, as Italy's manager four years ago. "Capello and Lippi are the two great Italian managers of their generation, and objectively there wasn't much separating them until Lippi won the World Cup with Italy in 2006," says Gabriele Marcotti, author of the biography Capello: Portrait of a Winner. "Capello could probably have pursued the Italy job and been appointed, but winning a World Cup with Italy would simply mean equaling Lippi. If he can do it with England, he'll surpass him."
Can it be done? Can England win the World Cup under a foreign coach? Capello chews on the question as if it's a slice of his beloved jamón Ibérico. "I hope to play in the final," he says. "This is my target."
Once in the final, as he knows, anything can happen. And if Don Fabio does wins it all, the people of England might hail him as Sir Fabio, forever.