The England manager’s job is a poisoned chalice. A first job in international football is never going to be easy but the added pressure of constant media scrutiny, moving to a new country and taking over a transitional side in turmoil following their failure to qualify for Euro 2008 made Fabio Capello’s job a near impossible task. That he left the job with his head held high, a qualification record of two from two and the highest win percentage of any manager in the history of the English national side is a testament to his unique managerial abilities. In his only major international tournament as a manager he lost to a dominant German side – the core of which would be crowned world champions four years later – in a game that could easily have been very different had Frank Lampard’s infamous line-crossing shot been awarded as a goal. Following an unbeaten qualification campaign for Euro 2012, Capello showed his loyalty to his players by resigning after John Terry was sacked as England captain. With just two competitive defeats in over four years in charge, Capello is comfortably the best England manager of the last ten years. Criticism of his international record is unjust and more to the point it neglects the fundamental truth that Capello is one of the greatest club managers of all time.
An accomplished midfielder who won Serie A four times as a player, Capello bided his time on the AC Milan coaching staff before being appointed as manager in 1991. Taking over a Milan side who had won the title just once in twelve years, Capello allowed his attackers to play with more creative freedom and in his first season in management led the Rossoneri not only to the league title but also to only the second undefeated season in Serie A history. Capello’s Milan were invincible, setting an Italian league record of 58 games undefeated. Ahead of his time, Capello implemented a system of squad rotation and during the 1995-96 season introduced a version of the 4-3-2-1 formation to Italian football. He was also one of the first managers to experiment with two holding players – Rijkaard and Albertini – strengthening his defence and freeing up his attackers. The defence Capello built at Milan is considered one of the greatest of all time, conceding just fifteen goals in the 1993-94 season and going a then-Serie A record 929 minutes without conceding a goal. Far from being a typically Italian defensive side, Capello brought flair players like Di Canio, Baggio and Weah to the club and in arguably his most impressive performance at Milan demolished Cruyff’s Barcelona ‘dream team’ 4-0 to win the 1994 Champions League Final. This was the second of three consecutive Champions League finals Capello led Milan to, a record only equalled in the modern-era by Juventus. He also won three consecutive league titles, adding a fourth in his fifth and final season at the club. In just five years at the now one-hundred and seventeen-year-old team, Capello won 22% of its Serie A trophies, winning nine major honours in total. His Milan side was one of the most dominant Europe had ever seen – and Capello was just getting started.
A single season at Madrid followed, with Capello proving his transfer acumen by buying the likes of Suker, Seedorf and Roberto Carlos – who he converted to the left back role – building the core of the side that would go on to dominate European football. Capello won the league title in his first season in Spain, leaving only due to a falling out with chairman Lorenzo Sanz. After a brief return to Milan, Capello moved to Roma where he achieved arguably his greatest feat in football, winning the club its first league title in two decades and only the third in Roma’s history. Continuing to prove himself as one of the great team builders in footballing history – even the signings he made in his second spell at Milan proved crucial to them winning Serie A the following season – he added Walter Samuel and Gabriel Batistuta to his side, playing an aggressive 3-4-1-2 and encouraging his full backs to push on. Debt kept him from adding to his title-winning side and after keeping Roma competitive for a further three years, he moved to Juventus where he won back to back Serie A championships (although these were revoked following the 2006 scandal.) This prompted his move back to Madrid, who had sacked five managers and won no league titles since 2003. It was during his second spell in Spain Capello earned the nickname Don Fabio, winning another La Liga title despite being fourth in March. It was Capello’s bravery in recalling David Beckham – and on the final day of the season, his decision to substitute him for Reyes who scored twice to overturn a 1-0 deficit and clinch the trophy – that proved beyond all doubt this was a manger not afraid to make the big decisions that so often paid off. In his fourteenth and final full season in club management, Capello had won his ninth league title, leaving him with one of the greatest records in football management history.
one of the greatest records in football management history
At the very least, Capello must rank as the greatest Italian manager of all time, winning as many Serie A titles in twelve years as Trapattoni did in twenty and the same number as Marcello Lippi, Carlo Ancelotti and Arrigo Sacchi put together in their combined four decades in Italian football. He is also the only manager to have managed four or more clubs and have a win percentage above 50% at all of them – with his overall win percentage higher than the likes of Matt Busby and Brian Clough. A master tactician and transfer genius, Capello built sides with ruthless defences and devastating front lines. He was a born winner – lifting trophies at the rate of more than one a season and winning the league title for every single club he managed. Whilst Sir Alex Ferguson is undeniably the greatest football manager of all time, his immense respect for Capello is the strongest character witness imaginable and proves that Don Fabio is indeed a legend. To paraphrase Brian Clough, Fabio Capello may not be the best manager in the business, but he’s certainly in the top five.