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Aug 5, 2013

Greatest Managers, No. 20: Capello

Numbers are reductive, but when you win seven league titles in 15 full seasons of management with four different clubs in two different countries, they tell their own story. And when you win every which way possible, that tells a story, too. In particular, it tells the story of Fabio Capello.

Fabio Capello's gruff demeanor hides a superb managerial record

Abrasive, aloof, arrogant. Those are the three "As" most often leveled at him. But if you want to win, heck, the odds work in his favor.

A former standout midfielder whose career was hampered by injuries, Capello didn't enter full-time management until he was 45. But when he did, the world noticed. He inherited Arrigo Sacchi's legendary Milan side and won four titles in five seasons, first by bludgeoning opponents with a free-scoring team, then by going on lockdown and turning the Rossoneri into one of the stingiest sides in recent memory, one capable of going nearly two seasons without losing a single game.

Along the way, he lost a European Cup final but won another in the most convincing fashion, destroying Johan Cruyff's vaunted Barcelona "Dream Team" 4-0 in one of the most one-sided finals ever.

He moved to Madrid in time to launch a young striker named Raul into the big time and win another title. After a brief return to Milan, it was on to Roma, a club that had won one league title in the previous 58 seasons. Capello made it two, putting on weekly clinics of attacking football.

Then came the kind of move that underscored just how little he cares about what others think of him. He jumped ship, virtually overnight, to join archrivals Juventus, a team he had criticized in public for the best part of the previous five years. He became the ultimate hate figure in Rome but cared little, delivering another two Serie A titles to Juventus. When the Calciopoli scandal hit, he again rolled quickly out of town, landing back in Madrid and winning one of the toughest, most contested Liga titles ever.

Yet, as we all know, it didn't quite work out that way. While statistically he left as the best England manager ever, he came up short at the 2010 World Cup. And while he didn't depart until later -- and in typically acrimonious circumstances -- it remained a blot on his career.

Capello's strengths are mainly threefold. He has a near-unparalleled tactical understanding of the game, as evidenced by the breadth of styles successfully employed by his teams. He is as good a match-day boss as any, capable of making game-changing adjustments. And he has the kind of combative personality that commands equal parts fear and respect.

Even as he gets older, the fire still burns. Some see him as egocentric and selfish, but he can just point to the trophies. And there's only so much arguing you can do with someone who has won so much.

ESPN FC’s Top 20 Greatest Managers was determined by a polling process of over 20 regular columnists, contributors and editors at ESPN FC.

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