When Fabio Capello faced up to the inquest on Monday morning, less than 24 hours after England's defeat to Germany, he gave the impression of a man who had seen quite enough in the two-and-a-half years since he became the manager of the national team and was ready for the exit.
He looked drained, dejected and, most of all, struggling to keep to the script that had been agreed with the Football Association beforehand. That morning, he had been told by Sir Dave Richards that the FA had decided to put his career on hold while they reviewed the job. It was some indignity for a man of Capello's status in the game to bear and there were a few moments when it looked as though he might just go off-message.
He said then that he still wanted the job but it was without any conviction. Yet, as those close to the England manager finally came out yesterday to give their insight into how Capello feels, it seems that, despite his lacklustre performance on Monday, the Italian really does want to stay in the job. He was not paying lip-service in order that the FA would be obliged, in the event of sacking him, to pay up the rest of his lucrative contract.
Capello still believes that he can manage a squad of players who were heavily divided over the merits of their manager by the time they crashed out the tournament on Sunday. Capello wants "revenge", the source said, by which he meant he wanted to prove himself on the international stage, where he failed so spectacularly this month in South Africa.
Capello also believes he can manage John Terry, the man who publicly challenged his rule in the aftermath of the draw with Algeria. The Italian's position is that the last two -and-a-half years have been a steep learning curve in the intricacies of international management and that he would be much better prepared for the challenge of Euro 2012.
There were some huge mistakes during the last campaign: his adherence to the 4-4-2 system that made England look so flat-footed and exposed against Germany; his reluctance to use his most effective goalscorer, Peter Crouch, as a substitute for anything more than 18 minutes over the first two games; his refusal to drop a plainly out-of-form Wayne Rooney; his inability to deploy Steven Gerrard effectively.
In comparison to the way Germany's young team played, England looked badly out-of-date and so many of this team are getting to the age where it will surely require a major change of personnel – especially looking forward to the next World Cup in 2014. However, new options for England's next game against Hungary on 11 August are thin on the ground (see panel) and as Richards began yesterday the task of deciding whether Capello stays or goes, the alternatives were looking thin on the ground.
In the last decade, the FA have tried every possible way of remedying their under-performing national team. They went for Sven Goran Eriksson, an expensive foreign coach. Then they attempted to appoint a World Cup-winner, Luiz Felipe Scolari, who had beaten England in two previous tournaments. When that failed, they swung back to the English option in Steve McClaren. When that failed, they came full circle with Capello – a foreign coach with an unimpeachable reputation.
With his track record, Capello was intended to be the guarantee against failure. He was supposed to be the ultimate solution to the impossible job and then when solving England's problems proved beyond even him, the FA realised they had run out of options. The only option they have not tried so far is sticking with a manager in the face of pressure and giving him a chance to turn things around. Capello could be the first.
The backing yesterday from Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside was the first good piece of news Capello has had since the defeat on Sunday. Not all Gartside's ideas for football have been sound – his proposal to abolish relegation from the Premier League springs to mind – but he does have considerable sway on the FA main board and he and Richards are close. His backing will give Richards some welcome reassurance if he is leaning towards retaining Capello.
There is a considerable campaign among tabloid newspapers – including The Sun, which will have some effect on the way the FA are thinking – to get rid of Capello, The organisation is notorious for its dithering and the longer the state of limbo goes on, the more Richards and the rest of the FA will become figures of fun. The longer they leave it, the more likely Capello – their fall-back option– will be poached.
There is no obvious alternative. Roy Hodgson is hardly likely to imperil his appointment as the Liverpool manager in the next 24 hours on the off-chance he might be considered for a job that still has an incumbent. Harry Redknapp is facing a case for tax evasion and is the kind of figure the national game representatives on the FA board instinctively distrust. His club Tottenham Hotspur would also demand compensation for Redknapp, which would add to the cost already incurred if the FA had sacked Capello.
After that, the English candidates are as thin on the ground as they have been over the last 10 years. Sam Allardyce? Overlooked last time when McClaren was appointed and no further on now. Stuart Pearce? Indifferent club management career and critically lost his temper when in charge of the Under-21s in the European championship final last summer. Alan Curbishley? Not even in a club job.
Richards is under pressure himself. The longer he leaves the decision hanging, the more he will be accused of indecisiveness. He is also in danger of alienating the Premier League – his powerbase – who do not want their chairman to look as if he is also running the FA in his spare time. That seems to be exactly what is happening in the absence of a chief executive or chairman at the organisation.
Time is not on the side of the ambitious "Sir Dave". As Premier League chairman, he always craved power over the FA but, having obtained it, there now seems to be a certain irony that, in making a decision over the England manager, he is burdened with one of the most onerous tasks the organisation has to face. He may yet decide that he is best off with the manager he already has.
Who could replace Capello?
Odds on the next England manager:
Harry Redknapp (Tottenham) 7-4
Roy Hodgson (Fulham) 3-1
Stuart Pearce (England coach) 7-1
Martin O'Neill (Aston Villa) 8-1
Arsène Wenger (Arsenal) 12-1
Sam Allardyce (Blackburn) 14-1
Guus Hiddink (Turkey) 16-1
David Beckham (LA Galaxy) 16-1
Jose Mourinho (Real Madrid) 20-1
Mark Hughes 20-1
Glenn Hoddle 25-1
Terry Venables 25-1
Jürgen Klinsmann 25-1
Alan Shearer 28-1
Sven Goran Eriksson 33-1
Joachim Löw (Germany) 33-1