Friday, June 18, 2010

the special ones

Papa Capz will be the subject of much derision (and quite a few jokes a la my favourite man in blue, Nicolas Anelka), and in light What Just Happened, this is probably warranted. Capello's past record needs no defending, but England's awful start at the World Cup raises the question of whether he is in fact the colossus of the coaching world that he is otherwise supposed to be.

Plenty of people have called England a mediocre team. Yet, as my England-supporting friends are never tired of pointing out, the team contains some of the brightest stars of the World's Best League (TM). How can you put Rooney and Gerrard and Lampard and so and so and so in a squad and not win? Yet others will point out that there is a difference between great players and a great team. It is worth remembering that there was a palpable sense that Capello had been hired for his success with that particular alchemical experiment.

If you watched any of Real Madrid's matches towards the end of the 2006-2007 season, you may have detected the push-pull of irresistible forces meeting the immovable object on the touchline. At no time did their organisation achieve the creative solidarity of, say, the Manchester United of that year, but their Liga victory at the end of the year somehow did indicate the miraculous development of something like a collective will. Its shape was the shape of Capello's will. In all their teamwork, it was evident that their field sense or spontaneity could only work in tandem with the chalkboard, if it were to succeed.

Perhaps Capello's experience had then proved that it is the teams with great individual talent that require the most thinking behind-the-scenes, the most intense examination of probability and the least subjection to chance. The more ideas a team has, the more those ideas require prior extrapolation. For about a quarter of an hour during their first game against the USA, the English team seemed to illustrate this. Without ever really running riot over the USians, they were playing to a plan; they demonstrated a certain patience in the squabble for space around the ball, an earnestness in building up play forwards, and some confident defending. Yet, in the minutes after Gerrard's goal, this sense - this collective will - showed signs of decomposure, and its disintegration after the USA goal was evident in the sudden panic, the loss of shape, and a hilarious return to relying on the long ball. In short, to follow the chalkboard analogy, they were schoolboys who forgot the teacher's instructions.

Capello is the most schoolmasterish of the schoolmaster variety of coach. Someone like Jose Mourinho is often accused of stealing the limelight from his players, which Capello does not do. But one gets the sense that their agency on the pitch - unlimited as it may potentially be - is subject to his his plans. Since he has had few bad plans in his coaching life, it would be reasonable to assume that he knew what he was doing when he left the the already-retired, the lacklustre, the unfit and the misfits out of his squad. Invariably, the Carrick Question, the Cole Question, the Heskey Question (one of these is not like the other) and the Hargreaves Question (which, believe me, I did not know was a question until I woke up this morning and discovered corners of the Internet fairly ringing with it) will help those of us extrapolators who are not in Capello's position to answer many horrifically unanswered questions.

What I want to know, without letting questions of victory and defeat enmurk the issue, is whether a surfeit of trust in Fabio Capello that has not been repaid exhaustively? Was the promised uber-Lippi really a combination of Domenech (bad-tempered, somewhat evil) and Maradona (so malevolent about putting players out of position that the woman on the street would probably pick an eleven better than him)?

Or is it that the team England have now -- Heskey and all -- are incapable of playing to pattern? If not, why? Are they not only less talented than other teams (ridiculous) but also less capable of committing a lesson to memory? Do they sabotage themselves by allowing personal detestations to affect their on-field relationships? Have they simply not had the advantage of spending a year locked into a training ground with Fabio Capello, like the Real of that year, acceding slowly but surely to the Capello hive mind?

Perhaps the funniest thing about the absolute mental disintegration -- both team-wise and fan-wise -- of last night's outcome against Algeria, is that there's time to see, after all. The other thing the Capello effect has wholeheartedly benefitted from, of course, is luck. Unbelievably for this team, it may still give Capello a chance to chalk out their future.

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