Confident Capello points players to fearless future
Fabio Capello puts England's amazing transformation down to one thing - confidence.
Twelve months ago the Three Lions were on their knees. Dumped out of Euro 2008 by Croatia, Steve McClaren was shown the door and a place at the next World Cup in South Africa seemed like a pipe dream.
But the arrival of Capello has led to a complete change in fortunes.
After a series of hesitant friendly performances, England have put together a run of four straight qualifying victories, including revenge over Croatia in Zagreb, to sit proudly at the top of Group Six.
They head to Germany on Wednesday for a friendly in Berlin knowing a place in the world's top 10 has been secured and no one seriously considering World Cup qualification will not be achieved at some point next year.
So, aside from Capello himself, what has changed?
At £6million per annum, the Italian should know. But the answer evaded McClaren for too long and Sven-Goran Eriksson never really got on top of it.
To Capello, it is simple.
''What has changed the most is the confidence of the players,'' he said.
''In my first game against Switzerland in February, I remember we played without confidence. Now I can see it. It is the most important thing.''
So important that Capello will not be tinkering with his established blueprint too much in Berlin, even though the game offers an obvious opportunity for experimentation.
His reasoning is clear enough. Why put at risk everything that has been achieved in 2008 for the sake of something which will not be used when the real action starts again against Ukraine at Wembley in the spring.
''It is very important for me to follow a certain route even though a lot of players are injured,'' he said.
''As a team manager you can work every day. In charge of England I get three days and one game a month.
''Confidence disappears more quickly than it appears so we should keep to the road that has got us results.''
Capello made a point of sitting down with his players prior to that first tentative outing against the Swiss. He wanted to get into their heads and understand the way they worked.
He wanted to unearth their strengths and weaknesses, discuss their fears and hopes. What went wrong under McClaren was never actually mentioned.
''We spoke about mistakes and errors,'' revealed Capello. ''We spoke about the systems. We spoke to remove fear and find confidence.
''English players were excellent with their clubs but they were not the same when they were with their national team. We have worked a lot on that.
''But I never spoke about the past. I have never done that in my life.
''I did not discuss what went wrong. I asked them to forget about the past and just to think about the future.''
Instead, Capello spoke with FA staff at Soho Square and others who had been around the players in order to draw his own conclusions.
The informal chats all came back to the same issue, confidence being drained away by a naked fear of failure.
''I saw all the games on DVD,'' he added. ''I studied them and started to understand why some results happened.
''When they had to get a result in the last game at home against Croatia, there was no confidence at all. The team played with fear.''
In Capello's mind, the recent upturn in results has not erased what went before. He recognised agitation in the stands during difficult moments in that home game with the Swiss and, more recently, in meetings with the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan.
It is why, while Germany, probably Spain and Slovenia are next in line for England, his mind is already starting to focus on that next qualifier against Ukraine on April 1.
''I am very interested to see what happens,'' he said.
''That will be a big test. I want to see whether the fear is still there. I hope it has gone. We have got a lot of points away. We need to get them at home as well.''