In the build up to the World Cup of 1978, a 31 year old Fabio Capello was a significant component of the Italian team that qualified for the Finals as group winners. Despite playing with a knee complaint throughout the qualifying campaign, the midfielder would have been confident of his place in Enzo Bearzot’s squad. However, noticing hindrance within Capello’s motion whilst becoming increasingly aware of the talents of Marco Tardelli, Bearzot made the decision to omit Capello from his travelling squad. Significantly, the first Capello knew of his exclusion was a TV news broadcast. There was no communication between Capello and his manager suggesting that he would be dropped, let alone any considered attempt to soften the considerable blow. Not quite public humiliation but a brutal way of discovering the end of your international career.
Look forward to 2010 and we see an uncanny reenactment of Capello’s own journey into the international footballing wilderness. Petty retribution directed at an innocent party? I doubt it. However, serious consideration must be taken as to why Capello, a man who knows how it feels to discover your own involuntary international retirement in such circumstances, chose to reveal David Beckham’s future on live television without informing the player himself. The fact that David Beckham is a brand, an icon and England’s leading outfield cap holder should not come into the debate. It is the manner of Capello’s behaviour that causes alarm, not the victim.
Fabio Capello had two options regarding his management of the situation. He could simply swerve the question, praising the performances of his wingers if he saw fit, leaving Beckham out of the equation. If Beckham was not in the Italian’s plans then so be it. If the LA Galaxy midfielder had been omitted from squad after squad, it would have become clear that his international career was approaching an end. By bringing Beckham’s future to the forefront of the media reaction to a friendly that he wasn’t even involved in, Capello indicated that Beckham carried superior status to the rest of the team. There are many former England internationals who will not wear the shirt again. There was no need to publically confirm that their careers were over so why was there a need to place Beckham on a pedestal in front of the world’s media, with the sole purpose of shooting him down? Throughout his England career, Beckham has insisted that he is simply another player. He was a special player, one held close to the hearts of English fans, but why Capello saw a need to treat him in this superior manner is anybody’s guess.
Alternatively, Capello could have phoned David Beckham. Revolutionary I know. We all understand that at times of peril Capello loses all ability to speak the English language and maybe he was simply worried about miscommunication. However, Beckham has a basic understanding of the Italian tongue after his time in Milan. Eccellente. If it were to take his fancy, a touch of Spanish may also have sufficed. The situation could have been resolved professionally in a language of Capello’s choice with minimum fuss. Obviously, I’m being ridiculous but in reality, is this any more ridiculous than Capello’s failure to pick up the phone? If Capello really had to end Beckham’s international career publically on Wednesday night, notifying the player should have been his primary action. If anything, Beckham was a tool for Capello to strengthen his own position at a difficult time. By excluding him from international action the Italian could show that he was his own man and crucially, the man capable of making the difficult decisions to overhaul an ageing England team following a monumental World Cup failure. Rather than convincing the English public that he was the man to take the national side forward, Capello has thrown further ammunition to those looking to shoot him down.
Furthermore, it is not only the style of Capello’s announcement that is an insult to a fine professional, but the way in which he chose to suggest Beckham’s future. Although David Beckham is undeniably a worldwide brand and a celebrity of the highest order, the man himself would want nothing other than parity once inside the England camp. Beckham has stated repeatedly that he will never make himself unavailable for England duty, if needed. By offering Beckham one final England cap, a testimonial with which the humiliated individual can wave goodbye to his adoring public never to be seen in such surroundings again, Capello has clearly sought to draw a line under Beckham’s career and enforce an international retirement that isn’t desired. Unlike others that Capello has called upon, Beckham would happily play for Capello’s England. Forcing him to admit that his England career is over serves very little other than to glorify and exploit ‘Brand Beckham’ one more time. If Capello were able to understand the man himself, he would know that this is the last thing David Beckham desires.
Only a few weeks ago, Beckham was sitting on the bench in South Africa, doing everything in his power to aid his country’s performance in the World Cup finals. Whether Beckham should have been invited is another matter but Capello’s reasoning was that he was a fine professional, respected by all in the squad, who could provide the link between the players and the management. Capello’s actions have only served to exacerbate any gap between squad and the manager. Although his players will never publically state their disapproval, what the likes of Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry think of Capello’s treatment of Beckham is significant. Three players who have captained their country, approaching the final years of their internationals careers, each now wondering when their own future will be revealed and how many millions of people will hear it before they do. Capello has little understanding of the impact that his treatment of Beckham could have on the rest of his squad and in a job where relationships with players are so significant, Capello’s ability to ostracise himself is an increasing worry.
Furthermore, Beckham’s involvement in England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup has been one of the overwhelming positives in the campaign. Whilst comments at board level may have hindered England’s chances, Beckham acted as he has for the vast majority of his career, as a fine ambassador for English football worldwide. When considering the time that Beckham has invested in helping his country in recent times, the style of Capello’s comments come across as nothing but disrespectful, ungrateful and fundamentally, ill judged.
Whilst at the helm of a winning side, Fabio Capello could do little wrong. Firm decisions, insistence on formality and a distant relationship with his players were simply examples of the authority that the English national side had been lacking for so long. Following a miserable World Cup, cracks are appearing in Capello’s armour and his actions are doing little to convince his doubters. Of course, Capello has previous when it comes to making significant errors in regard to a simple phone call. Whilst trying to convince Paul Scholes to return to international duty, Capello left the dirty work to Franco Baldini. It is common knowledge that a more personal touch could have seen Paul Scholes in an England shirt once more. Capello’s treatment of Scholes and Beckham exhibits a total disregard for the feelings of his players and if anything, his failure to do the jobs that a manager should be doing borders on pure laziness. When the FA is paying a manager £6 million per year, they expect to gain a manager who understands his players, not one who passes the tough jobs onto his assistant.
When Capello revealed that David Beckham had no international future on Wednesday night, the England manager opened himself up to all sorts of criticism. At this moment in time, it is difficult to argue that the majority of it is not deserved. As soon as Capello spoke about Beckham’s future, the former captain was elevated to a greater significance than the current squad. The previous 90 minutes faded into insignificance in the eyes of many and the birth of the ‘new England’ was overshadowed by the news surrounding the captain of the old guard. Capello’s crime was not the action, but the manner in which it was carried out. There were two ways in which Capello could have executed David Beckham’s removal from the national team and neither were implemented satisfactorily. A silence on Beckham’s future would have been understandable and the absence of the former Manchester United midfielder from future teams would have told its own story. Alternatively, if Capello felt the need to speak out and end the Beckham infatuation once and for all, a simple phone call prior to the announcement would have been enough to maintain Beckham’s dignity and Capello’s integrity. Beckham represented him country with dedication, professionalism and pride. Whilst Capello continues to overlook simple man-management techniques, fans will doubt whether the Italian can manage the national side with the same principles. Capello still has a future with the England side and if he can overcome the issues he admits he has with understanding the players, it may end successfully. However, Capello must be the first to admit that this is a call he got very wrong.