Calls for England's Italian manager Fabio Capello to go after the World Cup are replaced by calls to stay.
Capello is in purgatory
The fissures lining his distinctive features shadow still further; Fabio Capello is astonished by the very question.
Are there any circumstances in which he would consider staying on as England manager beyond 2012? His bemusement is understandable. A couple of months beforehand exactly the same journalist wanted to know why Capello was not resigning immediately.
A friendly defeat of Hungary and a brace of European Championship qualifiers over Bulgaria and Switzerland and suddenly the Italian is being asked to contemplate another contract extension. He hauls his formidable lower jaw into a knowing grin and doles out a series of negatives. "No. I've decided I stop," he begins. "No, it is not a problem if we win or lose, I've decided before." "No, absolutely nothing [would persuade him]. No. I think after four years, one World Cup, not good results; one Euro, it is enough."
Capello recognises the absurdity of the situation and refuses to be trapped into delivering the headline. But then England's manager has been living in a strange, compromised world ever since the resignation questions of July. During the catastrophe that was England's World Cup, the 64-year-old signalled his despair with a group of players failing to perform to their status. The preparation was excellent, the tactics were good, Capello said after draws with the United States and Algeria.
His input as a coach remained as professional as when acquiring multiple titles in Italy and Spain's leagues. The problem, he implied, lay with the men pulling on the shirts with three lions on them. For this reason he was not prepared to walk away from a £6 million (Dh35m) a year contract from which the English Football Association (FA) had hurried to remove a break clause before the tournament. Pay Capello off, however, and he would have gladly found a better use of his time.
Despite immense media and public pressure to do dismiss Capello, the FA considered the cost prohibitive and left the national team manager in a kind of well-remunerated purgatory. Where there was once an authoritative, globally respected coach, now there is constant debate around the very position. As he prepares for his third Euro 2012 qualifier - tonight's home date with Montenegro - Capello has to deal with not just a discussion of who should succeed him whenever this campaign comes to a conclusion, but whether England should ever employ a foreigner again.
On the sidelines, David Gold, the FA councillor, had proposed that the governing body introduces a rule limiting future appointments to individuals qualified to play for England. In the background, there are whispers that Capello could have been paid off and replaced with an Englishman on a £3m salary at no cost to the FA. That Capello committed errors with the World Cup is unquestionable. He lost respect by breaking his own rules on selecting fit and in-form players, and sticking to an unsettling policy of naming his starting XI less than two hours before kick off.
Yet he was unlucky in having Wayne Rooney and Gareth Barry suffer ankle injuries in the build-up to South Africa, a pair critical to the tactical reshape that helped England qualify so convincingly. The problems run beyond the man in charge. "When Fabio got the job I was very optimistic," said Jose Mourinho, the Real Madrid coach, recently. "The national team had a very experienced coach and a great leader. He was the right man, the right age, a strong personality."
Mourinho blames overly aggressive media coverage, stating that English players no longer like representing their country. Phil Neville, a former England international agrees. "I think it's totally fair to say that players these days enjoy being round the national team less," Neville said. "It's the hardest thing you'll ever have to do. The pressure and expectation for this great country from the fans is immense. We know if we don't perform our heads are on the block."
Like Capello's. Even if his bosses refuse to swing the axe.
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