On the face of it, England did rather well. A great performance in qualifying and undefeated in Group C. They made it through to the final 16 of the World Cup and even scored against Germany. Twice.
I was on a (pre-booked) train during most of the match. I wasn’t expecting to watch it, but when I got my laptop out various strangers took an interest and chipped in for internet access from T-Mobile via the Virgin connection. But the live video was unavailable because of BBC copyright concerns that we might be in some foreign country rather than rolling through the shires between Birmingham New Street and London Euston.
So for a rather bizarre hour or so, four strangers sat around a BBC text site updating us on the dazzling developments every 30 seconds.
It was 2-1 when we left the train, and the rest is history. My mobile phone revealed the final scoreline later and I texted my commiserations to Vanessa.
It would not be fair to measure Mr Capello’s performance based on the events of recent weeks. While his team played okay against against Slovenia, it was a somewhat less-than-satisfactory show in the other matches. But England won nine out of 10 games in qualifying. That is quite a performance.
The trouble is, England is always expected to qualify. And the manager will always be judged on his final few weeks (ie on the point of failure), especially by the British media.
I simply don’t know enough about football to judge Mr Capello. But I do know England have been short of any serious success for 44 years. Capello’s career in football covers the same era and he has not been short of success.
But here in England there is a wide acceptance that the England players are better than their World Cup performance. A belief that somehow the results are a deceit against the team. Fabio Capello was employed to do better than his predecessors (including such luminaries as Glenn Hoddle, Howard Wilkinson, Peter Taylor and Steve McClaren). He has outperformed them all.
Indeed my analysis of the statistics shows that – at competitive level – he has outperformed every manager in the team’s history. 10 wins to four draws or defeats (two each) is a success rate of 71%. It is an average of 2.3 points per game. Both stats are unrivaled in the team’s history. And it is the same headline fact when friendlies are taken into account.
Fabio Capello is the most successful England manager of all time.
He just lacks a trophy. Or an appearance in a worthy final. Or a semi-final. Or even a quarter-final! How depressing.
To see the team on the pitch, England’s performance in the World Cup matches was humiliating. My colleague, Ibrahim Mustapha has much to say about this at The Ibyss, including other issues for FIFA to explore following the referee’s failure to acknowledge Frank Lampard’s goal.
For me the biggest issue seems to be the opponent. Germany and Argentina are particularly problematic. Don’t mention the wars:
- World Cup 1966 – England defeated West Germany at Wembley. An anomoly.
- World Cup 1970 – West Germany defeated England in the quarter-final in extra time.
- World Cup 1982 – England drew against West Germany in the second round group stage, costing them a place in the semi-final, which the Germans later won.
- World Cup 1986 – Argentina defeated England in the quarter-final.
- World Cup 1990 – West Germany defeated England in the semi-final on penalties.
- Euro 96 – Germany defeated England in the semi-final on penalties.
- World Cup 1998 – Argentina defeated England in the round-of-16 on penalties.
- World Cup 2010 – Germany 4, England 1 in the round-of-16.
If this pattern sounds familiar it shoudn’t be a surprise. This stuff really happened. England keep meeting the same opponents, time and again. And losing.
Let us assume they will keep facing the same teams. There are other questions to explore. Are there systemic problems which cause the team to underperform? Are the players too tired after a tough season? Is the Premiership style of play unsuited to international football? Are the WAGs a bad influence? Is the press too hard on the little lambs? Has the coaching style been too relaxed (Sven)? Or too tough (Fabio)?
The World of Wad does not have all the answers. It never does. I leave such erudition to others.
In the meantime, I must go and check whether Northern Ireland made it through to the quarter-finals…
UPDATE: I honestly don’t think this is the time to sack Capello although the mood has been overwhelmingly against him. It seems FA board members are swinging behind him, although this could be led as much by financial concerns as by football.