Capello: 'My best moment was scoring the winner against England at Wembley'
Before the cliché was turned on its head, it used to follow that in the past of every "great manager" was at the very least a "good player" and in this respect the Football Association has wound back the clock to an altogether more successful age with its appointment of Fabio Capello. Believe it, when the new man instructs his internationals how to play it, there can be no sniggers and whispers in the background of, "What does he know? He never did it."
Capello did most things in a playing career that stretched over 16 years from the mid Sixties until his retirement in 1980, including scoring twice for Italy against England. A solid and stylish midfielder who was, perhaps, before his time in marrying the hitherto incompatible tasks of defence and creativity, Capello's gaffertorial style can be seen as a direct continuation of what he achieved on the pitch. "Uncompromising" is the adjective almost always dredged up to describe the Don Fabio in boots as well as the Don Fabio in sheepskin.
Capello's love affair with the professional game began in controversy when Guerrino Capello, who coached his son in his role as manager of their village club AC Pieris, refused Milan's overtures and instead insisted on the 18-year-old honouring a promise he had made to Spal 1907. The club were no Rossoneri but did happen to be in Serie A and it was here in the central town of Ferrara where the young Fabio received a hard but invaluable education. Within two seasons Spal were relegated and have been in slide mode ever since (they now labour in Serie C2/B). For Capello, though, it was to Rome and the upwards curve; he made his name in the capital and it has resounded through Italy ever since.
Capello's team-mates at the time remember an unusual amalgamation. "He was a tough midfielder with a squatty physique," said the international defender Luciano Spinosi. "But he also had great visual play. He knew how to score and would do so at the most opportune moments." No doubt Spinoza, with whom Capello was to move to Juventus, had in mind the winning goal in the 1969 Italian Cup final. But for anyone English and indeed for the player himself, one strike alone stands out. "The best moment of my career?" Capello has been quoted as saying. "Scoring against England at Wembley in 1973."
The match was important on two counts. The first was that Italy had never beaten England away before and the second that the defeat marked the end of Bobby Moore's international career. A month after the humiliating exit in the World Cup qualifiers to Poland, the nation needed a scapegoat and found one in the most sacred form possible.
Capello is unapologetic about that, just as he remained so throughout his 32 caps and a hotfoot around the best clubs in Italy that took him from Roma to Juventus to Milan. In all he collected four scudettos, but at 34, and with a youngster called Franco Baresi usurping him in the heart of San Siro, Capello called it a day at the age of 34.
It was accepted he would go into management, although it was also accepted that Capello's temper would lead to any number of scrapes. Famously, in his latter days at Milan, he hid in a hedge for a few hours waiting for a critical journalist to walk by. When the hack appeared, the furious playmaker jumped out and made his displeasure known in decidedly ugly fashion.
But Capello's playing days will be remembered as much for his cultured touch as any rage. In his spare time he was perhaps the only footballer of his, or most generations, who professed a liking for philosophy and fine art and did so without fear of ribaldry or ridicule. The Don had done his time and was already his own man.