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Next

Five Aside: Di Maria a skillful crosser

Five Aside 15 hours ago
Read
 Posted by ESPN Staff
Dec 17, 2007

Welcome, Don Fabio

Even the nickname is an improvement. The closest Steve McClaren came to a moniker was 'Mac' or 'Macca', which at least were simple for tabloid headlines, but gave no insight into his personality or style of management. With the benefit of hindsight, that at least managed to be kinder than the lasting impression McClaren left, that of 'the brolly with the wally'.

'Don Fabio', however, implies a respected, feared elder as well as, with the mafioso implications, an undercurrent of malevolence and viciousness. Fabio Capello has the immediate advantage of not being McClaren but, as both his nickname and his CV indicate, he has plenty of other benefits.

Nine league titles in two countries, not to mention one European Cup, are among them, but an unforgiving style of management is another. England's second foreign manager comes with an aura and the fear factor should never be underestimated.

Whereas England's established players have enjoyed privileged status under the last two regimes, the new incumbent at Soho Square is a man was unafraid to exile David Beckham and Ronaldo, not to mention branding the latter 'fat'. In a national team where player power has been a resounding failure, that marks a welcome change, quite apart from the schadenfreude many would experience were Frank Lampard, say, Michael Owen or Rio Ferdinand dropped.

Beckham, of course, earned recalls from two managers who had spurned him. When McClaren performed a volte face, it looked like an admission of weakness. Capello, meanwhile, won La Liga with a rejuvenated Beckham in his team.

Far from making an admission he had been wrong, the Italian was vindicated by Real Madrid's eventual success, and he did so without an attempt to influence the portrayal of events. McClaren, despite his emphasis on spin, was horrifically bad at it. Capello, disdainful of the whole business, emerged from his experience of the Beckham bandwagon better.

While age should preclude Beckham from a central role in the Capello reign, the Italian has to undo the former captain's unwanted legacy. There is an increasing demand, not least from the public, for an authority figure as an antidote to a generation of players to whom immense wealth has come early and easily. Accusations that the current selection of players are pampered may jar with them, but they have been unable to produce plausible explanations for their underachievement. A manager unconcerned whether he is liked by his charges is a marked change.

Those views are not just confined to the advocates of the reintroduction of national service but, nationality apart, England's new manager's style appeals to the old-fashioned.

And though Capello has sought to downplay suggestions that his views are those of the extreme right, he, like Jose Mourinho and Luiz Felipe Scolari, has expressed respect for right-wing political figures. It is not hard to see why. Mourinho and Scolari, it appears, admire the political equivalents of themselves.

Their footballing counterparts are harder to find, because the managerial autocrat is an endangered species. They were once more widespread, though often fiercely iconoclastic. Some, such as Malcolm Allison and Tommy Docherty, prospered as entertainers. Others, like Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson, have espoused left-wing causes and supported the Labour Party even if, in their wealth if not their choice of beverage, they qualified as champagne socialists.

But their brand of management is essentially dictatorial. They predated directors of football, technical directors, managing directors and the numerous unaccountable advisors some clubs collect. They were the supreme authority and, when they were right, it was a system that functioned perfectly (though, of course, not when they were wrong).

For those, this observer included, who do not share Capello's politics, there is the sense that the authoritarian brand of leadership may be an advantage. Consensus may be beneficial in many environments, but football management is not one of them.

Committees (and still more, sub-committees) do not excite. Collective management is less enticing than the prospect of a managerial messiah. The image of a game won by bureaucrats and consultancy groups is less inviting than that of one turned by a managerial masterstroke. Indeed football supporters like to imbue bosses with inspirational qualities, even when they do not possess them, almost attributing them omnipotence.

Capello's contemporaries who could pass for a middle manager in an anonymous company - McClaren, Glenn Roeder, Alan Curbishley, Gareth Southgate - do not carry the same cachet, even if at least one is a thoroughly nice bloke.

Because there are times when one, strong voice is all that is required. Consider McClaren, standing ineffectually under that laughable umbrella, after Croatia had cruised into a two-goal lead at Wembley. Devotees whose bracelets have the initials WWJD - what would Jose do? - inscribed upon them would reassure themselves with the knowledge that it would have been something different.

As Mourinho showed with his mastery of substitutions - and indeed Capello, in the run-in at the end of last season - management is the domain of the decisive.

And while the seeming sophistication of a man with a multimillion pound art collection appears a welcome antidote to the closeted existence of English football, it is the portrayals of Capello as a hard man of management which will garner him most support.

This is a manager unlikely to be distracted by critical articles, whingeing superstars or FA pressure to conform. So Capello's salary can be explained, in part, by the rarity value a throwback to the era of authoritarian managers possesses.

Nostalgia comes at a cost.


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