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BANGERS AND BOLOGNESE
GRANT WAHL
June 07, 2010
Once insular, stagnant and fearful of change, England now has its football fate—some would say its national birthright—in the hands of a suave Italian art collector who has the Three Lions looking like world-beaters
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June 07, 2010

Bangers And Bolognese

Once insular, stagnant and fearful of change, England now has its football fate—some would say its national birthright—in the hands of a suave Italian art collector who has the Three Lions looking like world-beaters

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The man who would bring England World Cup glory—the only sporting glory that's truly global—is not English. In fact, Fabio Capello, late of San Canzian d'Isonzo, Italy, is not much like any of England's St. George's Cross--waving, pint-swilling traveling fans or, for that matter, the millionaire players he manages on the national team. For one thing, Capello is wealthier than most of them, his $6.8 million salary paying him twice as much as any other World Cup coach. For another, Capello may be the only coach in the world with an art collection that includes works by Chagall and Kandinsky, the only one who spends the off-season hiking the Himalayas or scouring pre-Columbian ruins in Mexico.

Plenty of soccer players and coaches travel the globe as part of the job, but few can be called citizens of the world. "I started taking an interest in art when I was 23 years old," says Don Fabio, 63, his dark eyes shining behind designer glasses in his Wembley Stadium office. "I was always interested in paintings, but not only modern art. Also the antiques. I traveled a lot in the world to know all the generations—Mayan, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek—and I visited the most important archaeological cities." His private art collection is thought to be among the most extensive and valuable in northern Italy.

Capello's cosmopolitan expertise extends from art and travel to wine, opera and, of course, soccer, with a coaching career that spans three of Europe's most refined and diverse soccer cultures. Like Picasso's work, Capello's can be divided into distinct phases and styles. There are his Italian periods (seven league titles and a European crown in 13 seasons with AC Milan, Roma and Juventus); his Spanish periods (La Liga trophies in both of his one-season stays at Real Madrid); and now his English period, which presents his greatest challenge of all: to become the first foreign coach to lead a team to a World Cup title.

Capello, who played 17 seasons in Italy and made 32 appearances for the national team, never wanted to manage his home country at a World Cup. The Azzurri has already won four times with an Italian coach, including the '06 Cup under Marcello Lippi. No, Capello's after something unprecedented. "It's time," he says, his craggy face tightening, his hands chopping at the table. "It's time, it's time, it's time. A foreign manager has never won the World Cup. It's time to win."

The new Wembley Stadium outside London, a spectacular $1.1 billion monument to soccer, has almost every amenity imaginable in a modern sports palace. Yet you can't visit there without being reminded of England's soccer history: that it originated the sport, codified the rules and spread the gospel like a benevolent virus around the world. "We have 2,000 books on football behind you there, and some of them go back to the 1870s," says David Barber, the historian for the Football Association, England's soccer governing body. Since 1960, he has seen 5,852 games in person. "I go about five times a week," he explains, "so I'm really into football."

England is fiercely proud of its soccer tradition, to say nothing of the national values the game embodies. You don't dive on the field to draw fouls. You don't fake injuries. You win with honor. "English players fight," says Barber. "I've heard it said that's why English people love football, because they love anything that looks like a fight. That's what we've been brought up in over the centuries, given all the wars we've been in. There's a great pride in being English and in playing for England. It's what every player wants to do from an early age, more than winning a cup or the league or playing in Europe. And to be captain of England is the ultimate ambition."

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