Fabio Capello will be announced today as the 13th permanent post-war manager of England after giving a dazzling interview performance yesterday in which, according to sources, he impressed Football Association officials with his plans and ideas for the national team. The new manager in waiting was even given a private tour of Wembley Stadium to whet his appetite.
After a day of intrigue, Capello, 61, was finally spotted at Heathrow as he left around 5pm, having flown in yesterday morning on a commercial flight rather than a private jet. He was taken to Wembley, where he met with the FA chief executive, Brian Barwick, and Sir Trevor Brooking to be shown around the stadium after discussions in which sources said the Italian was " top-class" with "great ideas" and rigorously well-prepared on the team and its players.
Talks between Barwick, Brooking and Capello lasted three hours, in which the Italian spoke fluent English without the help of an interpreter. The FA was last night negotiating the details of what is expected to be a £4m-a-year deal, although neither side was prepared to say that it was a done deal. Capello flew out of Heathrow airport in the evening, leaving his son and lawyer Pierfilippo to finalise the deal with the FA's commercial and legal team.
There was understandable reluctance last night on the part of the FA to announce Capello as the new England manager with the memory of Luiz Felipe Scolari's dramatic U-turn at the time of the previous appointment last year still fresh. Both sides, however, have agreed in principle to Capello taking the job and the more complex issues of salary, bonuses and contracts were being worked on with a view to an announcement today.
The deal still needs the official stamp of approval from the 11 other members of the FA board. Barwick will call them today in order to get their approval but they will not have to attend the FA headquarters in Soho Square in person. The hope is that Barwick will be able to present Capello as the new England manager to the media as early as tomorrow, just 22 days since he announced the dismissal of Steve McClaren.
Yesterday was the first time Capello had met Barwick since the recruitment process began and even the FA was surprised at how the Italian managed to get through Heathrow yesterday morning without being noticed. His arrival in England was no secret yet he was picked up unnoticed from the airport and taken to Wembley, where he met Barwick and Brooking.
Both parties were already well aware of their mutual willingness to get the deal done but it was crucial that yesterday's meeting went well. Barwick has known for a few days that Capello was prepared to take the England job and wanted to meet the man who will be charged with rebuilding the national team after the crushing disappointment of failure to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals.
The tone of the meeting was described as "excellent", with a genuine connection between the FA hierarchy and its new man. The question of who will make up Capello's backroom staff was also raised along, with a number of candidates, including Alan Shearer and Gianfranco Zola, but neither side has yet committed definitely to any names. Capello returned to Italy last night to mull over his options in the knowledge that the FA would like at least one Englishman among his coaching staff.
Capello has been so confident of clinching the deal to manage England that he was in Madrid on Tuesday, it emerged yesterday, to tie up the compensation agreement he settled with Real Madrid when he was dismissed in the summer after one league-title winning season. Part of that deal involved moving his possessions out of the grace and favour home that the club had provided for him near to the Bernabeu stadium.
He is expected to be followed to England by his assistant Italo Galbiati and Franco Baldini, who worked with him at Roma and Real Madrid as a sporting director. Baldini has also tied up his compensation deals with the Spanish club, but is a target for West Ham United, who have interviewed the highly rated transfer market dealer for their newly created post of director of football.
Capello is known to have reservations about at least one of the England team's biggest - and most injury-prone - names, though those close to him say that every player will start with a clean slate. Capello was regarded as one of the best creative midfielders - or registas - of his generation in Italy and his take on the England midfield will be of great interest.
On Tuesday night Frank Lampard became the first England player to comment on the new manager. "Fabio Capello has shown what he can do by winning titles at all levels of football and would be a very good choice," Lampard said. "He has proved himself a winner with success everywhere he's been. I honestly don't know who is going to be the new England manager, but Capello is certainly the kind of personality who would be good for England."
The FA released its first statement since the recruitment process began last night when Adrian Bevington, the director of communications, confirmed that talks had taken place.
"I'm pleased to say that these discussions were extremely positive and without any problems," he said. "Fabio has tonight returned to Italy to honour a prior commitment. Understandably, further talks are now taking place between Fabio's advisers and ourselves."