FABIO the INFERNO
Don’t mess with this manager or you really will feel the fury of
ONE prominent Italian journalist who knows Fabio Capello well says this of the man’s single-mindedness: ‘If Fabio discovered a player was having an affair with his wife, he would still pick the player if it remained the best decision for his team.’ England’s manager does possess a cold professionalism but it is accompanied, as we saw again on Monday at the Moruleng Stadium, by a raging inferno when his subjects disappoint him.
The stories are the stuff of legend. The moment when he confronted Ronaldo as he emerged from a shower and barked: ‘Aren’t you ashamed of being so fat?’ Or his punch-up with Paolo Di Canio, the obscene gesture to Real Madrid fans and an incident, during his playing days, when he hid in a hedge to confront a reporter who had been giving him a hard time.
Silvio Berlusconi was struck by Capello’s refusal to compromise when he employed him as AC Milan manager. ‘Unfortunately, Fabio has one small fault,’ he said. ‘It is that dialogue forms no part of his approach.’
This, however, is not a man who is blinded by rage. He employs professional indignation as a motivational tool and carefully chooses his moments to explode, as England’s players have discovered.
On Monday Capello was furious with their first-half efforts against the Platinum Stars, reminding them that it was ‘a football match’ and that they had ‘ better start treating it as one’.
‘ I’ve not seen him like that before,’ said John Terry. ‘That was the worst, the angriest, I’ve seen him. But it sums him up. He’s a winner. Even in training he can go like that from nothing.’
The players first discovered as much in Trinidad, when Capello suddenly stopped a session. Incandescent, he told them they were not taking it seriously. ‘ We can either return to the hotel and come back later or do it properly now,’ he snarled. They wisely chose the second option.
Capello is the son of a schoolmaster, and discipline is the key to him, which is why he imposed a strict set of rules on the squad; why he stands with a red laser and zaps players whose mistakes he exposes when they examine matches on DVD. He once singled out Glen Johnson for some serious abuse because of t he way he had delivered a throw-in.
Emile Heskey realised it was wrong to bring a mobile phone into a t eam meal when Capello responded to the sight of him texting by slamming his food tray on the table. Yesterday there was further evidence of why the Italians called him the Sergente di Ferro —the I r on Sergeant. Nobody was excused from attending the safari. From the players to coaching staff and kitmen. ‘ They’re on a threelion whip,’ someone remarked.
Capello has denied ruling with an iron fist, but those who have incurred his wrath consider him pretty damn fearsome. Apparently he likes to use ‘why’ a lot for emphasis.
Sitting with him over dinner in Lesotho last year, I asked him if the stories of him ordering his two grown-up sons to be in bed by a certain t i me were t r ue. He answered immediately that they were, before informing me that anyone who lived under his roof lived by his rules. He is a man who refuses to tolerate any lowering of standards and demands respect. When he was at Real Madrid he dropped Antonio Cassano and never played him again after he caught the f orward doing impressions of him.
When at Roma, in 2004, Capello told younger players not to view Francesco Totti as a role model, claiming he had a bad attitude. He advised them instead to emulate the Brazilian Emerson. ‘ I told Daniele De Rossi not to follow Totti’s example, but to live a healthy life and follow Emerson’s lead if he wanted to achieve results,’ he said.
Totti was not impressed. ‘ You want to know about Fabio Capello’s human side? That’s easy. He doesn’t have one. To have a human side, you need to be human.’
Those closest to Capello disagree. The man who was in floods of tears when injury ended Marco van Basten’s career has a softer side. He is devoted to Laura, his wife for 40 years, and says nothing pleases him more than spending time with his grandchildren.
Italo Galbiati, one of his assistants, has said Capello has two personalities. ‘ The serious Fabio at work, the fun Fabio away from work,’ he said. His passion for art and travelling is well known, but he has also demonstrated an ability to forgive. Having declared that David Beckham would never play for Real again after announcing his intention to sign for LA Galaxy, Capello eventually invited him back into a side that won the title. And look how he now treats Beckham.
The Italian understands that management can be like parenting. If you scream all the time, you lose respect and the impact such tirades can achieve. But five days before the start of the World Cup, after three stuttering warm-up displays, Capello thought it appropriate to unleash hell.
If half-time explosions have become a common theme since Capello took charge, so have second-half performances that have been an improvement on the first. ‘First half good, second half not so good,’ was something Sven Goran Eriksson said. But Capello, who has tinkered with his side at the interval in all but seven of 24 matches, has a positive effect.
As England’s flight to South Africa was taking off from Heathrow, the pilot marked the moment when the aircraft left the ground by declaring: ‘Let’s go play some football.’
The players thought the pilot a buffoon. When Capello tells them to go play some football, they respond rather differently.