The Tactical Pragmatism of Fabio Capello

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Journalist Greg Lea writing for These Football Times takes a look at the Club and International coaching career of Italian football manager, Fabio Capello. With an illustrious playing and managerial record how will he be judged as he moves to the twilight of his career.

FABIO CAPELLO APPEARED to be on the brink. Two victories in his last 10 games in charge of the Russia national team prompted a crisis meeting with his bosses on Wednesday, talks that the 69-year-old is said to have survived solely because his current contract is too big for the country’s FA to buy out. After arguably being the 2014 World Cup’s most disappointing team, qualification for Euro 2016 hangs in the balance with Russia failing to win four of their six games to date. It is not what citizens of the 2018 World Cup host nation envisaged when the Italian was handed the reins in 2012.

It would be unfair, though, to remember Capello purely for his experiences in international football. After all, he was once one of the world’s best managers at club level, a winner of seven league titles with Milan, Roma, Juventus and Real Madrid and a man who reached three Champions League finals. Not only was he highly successful in terms of silverware won, Capello was the game’s ultimate pragmatist.

‘Philosophy’ has become a buzzword in the world of modern-day football management. Being said to possess one carries an intellectual air about it; the phrase ‘we won’t compromise our principles’ routinely met with nods of approbation.

Pragmatism, on the other hand, largely has negative connotations. Being pragmatic in football suggests a dull, safety-first style of play and an inability or unwillingness to entertain the public by playing the game the ‘right way’.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists pragmatism as ‘dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations’. There is arguably no-one who meets that description within football more than Fabio Capello.

An excellent holding midfielder with Roma, Juventus and Milan in his days as a player, Capello’s 24-year managerial career has been characterised by remarkable tactical flexibility, with the Italian regularly switching between formations depending on the particular club or situation within which he finds himself.

Assessing the tools available and then deciding on a system and approach may sound like the obvious thing to do, but this way of working relies upon extraordinary adaptability and self-belief; indeed, while there is perhaps something more romantic about the dogmatism of Johan Cruyff and Arsène Wenger, there is still much to admire about letting yourself be entirely swayed by circumstance, adjusting in real-time and using your skills to coach a variety of tactical setups.

Capello’s attitude was summed up perfectly in an interview with FourFourTwo: “Every time I get new players, I evolve,” the Italian told the magazine in 2007. “You have to look closely at the players you have, analyse them and know how to bring the very best out of every single one. How do you do that? By finding a playing style, a system, that allows the players to produce their best”

Capello’s first full-time coaching role came in 1991 with Milan, the place where he had ended his playing career eleven years previously. The Rossoneri had just won two back-to-back European Cups under the guidance of Arrigo Sacchi and, despite inheriting a talented squad, continuing the side’s success was considered a difficult task for a managerial novice.

Sacchi’s 4-4-2 formation remained under Capello, and there was no evidence of a major change in style in the first couple of years. There was, after all, no real need to induct sweeping reforms: this Milan outfit was not just packed with wonderful talent but also had a great balance to it, a watertight Italian backline of Mauro Tassotti, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Paolo Maldini supplemented by the attacking talents of Dutch trio Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit.

Milan scored 74 goals and conceded just 21 in their unbeaten, title-winning campaign of 1991-92 and netted a further 65 when they retained the scudetto the following season. The Rossoneri racked up some impressive wins during that time, defeating Napoli 5-0, Fiorentina 7-3 and Foggia 8-2, and Capello received enormous credit for keeping the team hungry and on top domestically.

In terms of Milan’s approach going forward, van Basten’s worsening ankle condition was the most significant aspect of the 1992-93 campaign. Originally sustained in 1987, the injury had dogged the striker’s entire time on the peninsula, and Milan’s 1-0 defeat to Marseille in the 1993 Champions League final would mark the premature end to a brilliant career.

Read More of this article at : These Football Times

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