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Wednesday, February 08, 2012 

The same mistakes.

It's odd the way the slowly turning wheels of justice can have an effect out of all proportion to the punishment when they stop grinding. Had John Terry's trial for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand (maximum penalty: a £2,500 fine) been scheduled to take place in March as it was thought it would instead of being postponed to July, then Fabio Capello would tonight still be in a job. Incidentally, for this it seems we mainly have to thank the continuing triumph of club over country, as it appears the players couldn't be expected to both play and give evidence on different days, despite Harry Redknapp combining managing and his trial, being absent from only one game due to his appearance before the beak.

Capello's resignation as England manager over a disagreement with the FA can then be respected on the principle of it, but not when you really drill down into the matter. There is after all much to admire in Capello's insistence that Terry should not be judged until he's had the opportunity to clear his name in a court of law. Being appointed the captain of England ought to be seen as a far less important role in the grand of scheme of things than being a minister in the government; whereas it was completely impossible for Chris Huhne to stay in the cabinet having been charged with perverting the course of justice, as someone effectively deciding what the laws should be while being accused of breaking them, Terry could certainly have continued in his role, remaining innocent until proven otherwise. The problem in practice is that it's been widely reported that since the alleged offence other England players have understandably had a problem with him leading them, and this sentiment was not just coming from Rio Ferdinand, brother of Anton. This was what really made his position as captain untenable.

We will now enter a period of interminable debate where it will doubtless be discussed whether or not the FA should have done more to try to contact Capello with their decision on stripping Terry of the captaincy, but they nonetheless reached the right decision, even if for the wrong reason. Just as reasonably, Capello communicated that this was an interference too far, and was well within his rights to decide it undermined him.

So then ends another unsuccessful era for the England team, and accordingly the brickbats are flying. Even in the Graun Capello is lambasted as a bullying autocrat, and you can guarantee that the red-tops will put it even more brutally. As much as some of the criticism is valid and warranted, with it being ridiculous that Capello never properly mastered English, especially when Roberto Mancini has managed it despite his City side coming from (almost) the four corners of the globe, and being too conservative tactically, much of it will typically ignore the deficiencies of the players themselves. The manager can after all only do so much to motivate his players, and when they perform as abysmally as they did against Algeria in South Africa in 2010 some of the blame has to be laid at their feet. Capello was meant to have been the man to bring the primadonnas down to size following the reigns of Eriksson and McClaren, yet he clearly didn't manage it. How could he when the media does so much to hype them based on their performances in the Premier League, where they're complimented by other players of all nationalities?

Having learned nothing from the past, Harry Redknapp is duly being groomed to take over. With Capello we tried aloof, austere and demanding; now we can go back into the comfort zone of likeable, populist and therefore almost certainly doomed. Taking over with just four months to Euro 2012 is the kind of job anyone with any sense would run from: England simply don't have a chance of winning when the so-called "golden generation" is ageing and the younger players coming through simply haven't been blooded yet. Reaching the quarter finals is probably the best that can be hoped for, and as we saw two years ago, it's results which are increasingly demanded both by the fans and the media. While even they might blanch from really launching into team and manager considering the far from perfect preparation should there have be another capitulation, the honeymoon will be well and truly over.

All this also distracts from how nothing has changed in the set-up of the FA or the football leagues to improve the chances of the national team prospering. The European Championship in June will itself mean that the players will only get about a month's break before the league starts up again, with those taking part in the early qualification stages of the Europa League back even earlier. Without some fairly major reform at all levels, and a dampening down of expectation on the behalf of both media and fans, all the same old mistakes seem likely to be repeated, regardless of who is chosen to take over.

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