Thursday, February 09, 2012

When We Was Fabio

A Ferdinand
Amongst the many things I struggle to comprehend, the origins of World War 1 have long been a fruitless source of bafflement.

The facts, as they stood, are that on 28 June, 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand - heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire and inspiration for a Scottish art rock band - took a bullet from a cross young Bosnian and, within a month, most countries, it seems, were piling into France and Belgium for a punch-up that would leave more than nine million people dead over the course of the next four years. How we went from one event to another is a mystery to me.

Skip forward, if you will, to Sunday, October 23rd, 2011 and the Barclays Premier League encounter between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea.

An exchange of words between another Ferdinand - the home team's Anton - and the visiting club's captain, John Terry, results in a conflagration that is continuing to take lives, proverbially speaking, almost four months on.

Last Saturday What Would David Bowie Do? remarked on what an utter mess the original incident at Loftus Road had left football in. If you missed it, here's a handy summary:
  • Terry is facing a criminal trial for his alleged "public order offence" towards Ferdinand (A) and had the England captaincy taken off him because of the impending court date 
  • Terry and Ferdinand are now at the center of collapsing inter-team relationships
  • QPR captain Joey Barton rants about the affair and Terry's deferred court case on Twitter
  • Ferdinand's brother Rio gets booed by Chelsea fans after giving his public support for Anton in an ill-advised TV interview on the eve of the Blues meeting Manchester United
  • QPR captain Joey Barton is, apparently, threatened with jail for contempt of court by ranting about the affair and Terry's deferred court case on Twitter 
  • Players threaten a toxic split in the England camp if Terry even turns up as a squad member for England's pre-Euro 2012 fixtures as well as the tournament itself
  • England are now without a captain four months before the start of a major tournament
And now, to that list, we can add "England seeks new manager". Again.

Fabio Capello's resignation tonight - bizarrely, scant hours after Harry Redknapp, widely tipped to be the next England manager, was acquitted of tax fraud charges - was coming. The Italian was incensed that the FA's senior executives didn't loop him into the decision to strip Terry of the England captain's armband.

Capello was known to be an enormous fan of Terry's on-pitch leadership skills, even if his off-pitch track record left something to be desired for the notoriously discipline-minded coach. Capello had, of course, been responsible for sacking Terry after his affair with Wayne Bridge's former girlfriend, but had also reinstated him in as bold a statement of his determination to have Terry lead the national side, come-what-may. 

The FA's decision to sack Terry before English football's reputation got any further out of hand may have been a sensible (and unavoidable) action, all things considered, but in blanking Capello, the Italian's days in the post were numbered. Capello did little to hide his ire, giving an Italian TV interview in which he said: "They really insulted me and damaged my authority," and that he "...thought it was right that Terry should keep the captain's armband." Capello's strong conviction was that his captain had not been convicted of anything: "In my opinion one cannot be punished until it is official and the court - a non-sport court, a civil court - had made a decision to decide if John Terry has done what he is accused of."

As Harry Redknapp was walking away from Southwark Crown Court, Capello was walking in to Wembley Stadium to meet FA chairman David Bernstein and general secretary Alex Horne. The expectation was of a terse meeting. The expectation, too, was that this would also end in Fabio Capello's reign coming to an end.

When the digital jungle drums of Twitter sprung to life to report that Capello had indeed resigned, few people were all that surprised, any more than they'd be surprised that the odds on Redknapp replacing him were shortening with every second.

The official statement from Bernstein was the expected dull-as-dishwater affair, stressing how "...Fabio has conducted himself in an extremely professional manner." and that in accepting Capello's resignation they were "agreeing this is the right decision," followed by the obligatory platitudes about thanking Capello for his work with England and to "wish him every success in the future".

Most people will agree that the former Milan, Madrid, Roma and Juventus coach gave a mixed return on the £6 million a year the FA furnished him with for his expertise. Although the stats show Capello had a creditable 67% win rate as England manager there was consensus that England hadn't made much more progress under him than they'd done under Sven-Göran Eriksson. These stats must also be balanced with England's abject performance in the 2010 World Cup, including the ignominy of another tournament exit at the hands of bloody Germany.

Perhaps the timing of Capello's resignation wasn't too bad after all: four months is a long time for the new man - whether Redknapp or anyone else on the bookies' shortlists - to come in and get the squad prepared for Euro 2012.

Whoever does come in will be picking up one of sport's most poisoned chalices. I wouldn't mind betting, either, that come the start of the Euros the chalice will contain more than a drop of the taint still traceable from whatever stupid comment was uttered in the heat of battle, one autumnal Sunday afternoon in West London.

Like a pebble dropped onto a still pond, the Ferdinand-Terry affair has triggered a series of concentric ripples that, by the time they are reaching the shoreline, are becoming extremely choppy indeed. Choppy enough to leave casualties - and careers - starting to pile up.

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