The tabloids may sense blood, yet Capello can swim with the sharks
The Italian has spent his entire professional life under media scrutiny that makes the English press pack seem tame, writes Glenn Moore
Published 14/12/2007 | 08:10
The last time the Football Association attempted to sign a world-class manager their efforts were scuppered by the attentions of the English media. At least, that was Luiz Felipe Scolari's excuse.
It did not wash. Red-top journalists and 24-hour news crews may have been staking out Scolari's domicile, as they are Fabio Capello's Lugano flat at the moment, but the glare of the English media is no brighter than that in Scolari's native Brazil, where reporters conduct interviews on the pitch during matches and the national team are surrounded by as big a circus as our royal family.
The England manager does attract extraordinary press scrutiny that is hard for the recipient to comprehend until in the post. Even Steve McClaren, who had seen at close hand Sven Goran Eriksson's personal life become a weapon in the tabloids' circulation war, admitted to being surprised at the intensity. But Capello is equipped to deal with it. He has spent his adult life in the spotlight, at clubs that have big daily newspapers almost entirely dedicated to their workings. Ones with supporters who have been known to invade training grounds to remonstrate with players and coaches. After walking out on Roma in 2004, for Juventus, Capello needed a bodyguard every time he returned to the city to visit his dentist.
From a football perspective the "feral beasts" of our native media are matched by some of the polecats of the Mediterranean. McClaren endured difficult press conferences, with journalists at times appearing almost contemptuous, but when England lost to Croatia last month the mood in Wembley's press theatre was sombre rather than vicious, the inquisition gentle. I can recall the first question to one Barcelona manager, in a post-match press conference, being: "You have disgraced the Catalan nation, why have you not resigned already?"
When Steve McManaman and David Beckham went to Spain they were astonished by the access granted to local media. Reporters are generally admitted to every training session, and not just for the 15 minutes the Football Association allows photographers so they can take some pictures of England players warming up. This is not just at Real Madrid and Barcelona, but even, to the surprise of Vinny Samways when he joined them, lowly Las Palmas.
McManaman described how, every day at training, "You've got the press, the same group of 30 who might only want a sentence or two, but they're there." Beckham returned from Spain at the end of his first season to tell the rest of the England squad they did not realise how lucky they were. Even on planes to away matches players were ambushed by the media – something that never happens at English clubs, although reporters generally travel on the same flights to and from Champions League games.
Many of the reporters McManaman and Beckham referred to worked for Marca or AS, two daily papers that sell half a million copies between them. They report only sport, primarily football, and mostly Real Madrid. It results in much politicking, with club officials keeping reporters well-briefed to ensure their support, often at the manager's expense.
It is the same in Barcelona where Mundo Deportivo and Sport sell nearly 250,000 copies daily. Even Thierry Henry who, unlike many English footballers rarely shies away from a microphone or tape recorder, expressed his astonishment at the scope of coverage after moving to the Nou Camp. "In training you have the press – and they want to come back home and sleep with you," he said. "They are just always there. It is a big change from England and Arsenal. The press were never there in training. At the beginning you are like, 'Whoa, is it always like this?'"
The situation is similar in Italy where each of the main cities, Milan, Turin and Rome have their own football-obsessed sports newspaper, with Milan's La Gazzetta dello Sport selling 400,000 copies daily by itself.
Capello has spent the last four decades operating either in one those cities or Madrid. In that time, as player and manager, his every footballing move will have been dissected by pundits and columnists. He has rarely, it seems, been impressed with their observations. He once said, "I can't stand the crap that gets talked by everyone, players, fans, the media, club officials. Sure, I suppose everyone is entitled to an opinion. But that doesn't mean their opinion is worth as much as everyone else's. Why should I waste my time listening to people who are clearly less intelligent than me?" His wife, Laura, casts her eye over the newspapers, and occasionally puts journalists right in her eyes, but Capello is more interested in reading books.
The one clear difference between the Italian media and the English is the intrusive nature of the latter's celebrity coverage, and Capello will be a celebrity here, like it or not. Eriksson's sexual activities became a red-top staple and the divorce of one of his predecessors, Glenn Hoddle, was widely covered. McClaren was so concerned about this he went public about an extramarital affair before he took up the national post. Eriksson's advice to future England managers was: "Unless you're actually going to the office or to a football match, then stay at home, lock the door, and do nothing else."
Capello, though, has been married for 40 years and there is no suggestion that he has a scantily-clad skeleton in the boudoir. That will not stop photographers stalking him, for a while at least, but paparazzi is, after all, an Italian word, and in Spain he will have experienced La Prensa Rosa, "the pink press", who made life for Beckham and his family almost unbearable.
One precaution he might take is to keep quiet about his political views, which appear to be right-wing by English standards, and play down his commitment to the Catholic church. Neither, though, is likely to become an issue if the team are winning. When Hoddle made his comments about disabled people before the 1998 World Cup finals no one cared. When, with the team faltering in Euro 2000 qualification, he repeated them, his removal followed.
For results, as ever, are the bottom line. McClaren had his teeth whitened, his hair fixed up, hired a PR guru, and tried, initially at least, to be nice to the media. When the team lost direction, all this provided as much protection as a paper raincoat in a hurricane.
Capello will simply be himself. In his press conferences there are occasionally smiles but, in general, the mood has been strictly professional. He has an intimidating mien, much like Sir Alex Ferguson, and does not suffer foolish questions. In Madrid he banned the press from training, creating enemies and resentment, and one wonders if he will submit to the FA's elaborate press briefing structure with separate conferences for print, radio and television media. Whether he does or not, his relations with an English press pack that is not short of big egos itself are unlikely to run smoothly. Capello will not care. He is not coming to make friends, he is coming to win.