There was something all too inevitable about Fabio Capello’s departure from the England job this week. Reportedly angered by the Football Association’s unilateral decision to remove John Terry as national team captain, Capello resigned at just after 3pm Wednesday afternoon. Such is the mood of distrust between the parties that the FA made little attempt to change the Italian’s mind. Capello’s is a fit of pique that costs the Italian around £2 million in lost wages, but more importantly generates questions about the former national team manager’s conduct.
Just as Kenny Dalglish has garnered critical media coverage for his staunch support of Luis Suarez over the past three months, in the face of widespread condemnation of the Uruguayan’s conduct, so too will questions be asked of Capello. After all, there are significant parallels between the two men, each of whom has singularly failed to understand the national mood surrounding racism in the country’s favourite sport.
The Italian’s resignation followed an hour-long meeting with FA Chairman David Bernstein at the body’s Wembley headquarters. It was a meeting in which the former AC Milan manager expressed his frustration at Terry’s removal, against the manager’s wishes, as England team captain.
After all, argues Capello, Terry has not been proven guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. Not by an independent panel, as was Suarez when he abused Manchester United captain Patrice Evra, and certainly not by the courts. That verdict may come in July after the magistrates court in charge postponed Terry’s originally schedule hearing.
Capello’s is a simple mantra: Terry is innocent until proven guilty. Simplistic, might be a more accurate description. Capello’s is a message that is widely understood, and may have garnered more widespread support among the football community had the Terry affair not threatened to engulf England’s Euro 2012 campaign. The unrelenting controversy and media scrutiny that a tournament involving England brings would only be heightened by Terry’s name on the leadership ticket.
The risk to the FA, of course, was that every managerial decision, every question to the team’s captain, and every result during the tournament would be placed in the context of Terry’s potential guilt. It was a risk too far for a conservative organisation. No spin will airbrush history if Terry is found guilty of racially abusing Rio Ferdinand’s younger brother.
In the context, and for once with right on its side, the governing body reacted quickly, and without apology, to sack Terry. Indeed, the FA’s decision was taken without consultation, undermining Capello’s authority in the process, and prompting the Italian manager to burn his bridges during an interview with Italian TV station RAI on Tuesday.
What more could the FA have done, except critics add, remove Terry from the squad altogether. Inept though the governing body is normally guaranteed to be, the FA had almost no choice but to demote the Chelsea defender. Many argue that the FA should never have allowed this halfway house to exist at all.
The new manager, whether it is the much discussed Harry Redknapp or another man, may well find it impossible to take the Chelsea man to Poland and Ukraine at all. Yet, Capello has received widespread support from fellow managers, including United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The collective managers’ union can never countenance team decisions being taken by a higher authority, without admitting to an overwhelming sense of impotence.
“There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion,” said Ferguson shortly prior to Capello’s departure.
“It’s a difficult situation for both sides. When you are the manager of a team and have a captain that is an important part of that team then you don’t want to lose him, so I can understand there’s a lot of discussion and controversy about it. There will have to be a coming together of the FA hierarchy and Fabio Capello because he’s the team manager, he has the importance of that position. Without question the most important person at a football club is the manager.”
In that prediction Ferguson was right, and Sir Alex’ support for fellow managers is long-standing. But it is also a poor barometer of the bind that the FA found itself. While the manager may be the “most important” man at any club, Capello’s position was certainly no more valuable than the bigger picture. This is, after all, an association that has promised a tough stance on racism. Terry, as the body’s leader on the pitch, quickly became anathema once the courts had put back its decision until after Euro 2012.
Capello’s is another case in a sordid campaign for managers when it comes to dealing with issues of race.
The Suarez and Terry incidents in the autumn have brought far too myopic a response from those involved. Dalglish’s agenda was different to Capello’s, of course, but each came from a position not of responsibility, but self interest.
The Liverpool manager strongly voiced Suarez’ innocence long after an independent regulatory commission ruled, in microscopic detail, on the affair. Capello has fallen on his sword for a man who may yet been proven guilty of a deeply inhumane act.
Yet, both Dalglish and the now former England manager have misjudged the country’s mood; misunderstood that while short-termism can be a catalyst for deflecting attention, ‘doing the right thing’ is the only permissible route when it comes to question of race. Dalglish’s stance set race relations back a generation at Liverpool. Capello has fallen on his sword because of his poor command of the substantial implications of the Terry case.
It is as if denial of the issue has taken over; an old school misunderstanding of the societal changes that have taken place while Capello and Dalglish were cossetted away in the surreal world of professional football.
The bandwagon will move on of course, but the England job, dubbed a “poison chalice” by Ferguson, will remain an impossibly difficult challenge. It is one that Ferguson must be grateful the FA will not try, for a third time, to foist upon him.
Dear Liverpudlian friends,
After reading this article you may be tempted to post a long conspiratorial diatribe, blaming the FA for “making an example of Luis Suarez.” You may wish to protest the striker’s innocence or, indeed, you may think about couching your post in quasi-legal language, of which you have no genuine expertise. You’re almost certainly desperate to blame Patrice Evra for it all. STOP! This has been heard before, and the small number of you that did not include racist or foul language were afforded space on this Manchester United blog. There is, however, a proper home for you. It’s called RAWK and you’ll be more than welcome there.
Yours, the editor.