Absolutely Fabio: As England Prepare to Launch Their World Cup Campaign, Our Art Critic, Tim Adams, Presents 13 Ways of Looking at the Team's Mysterious Italian Coach
As a bibliophile
A couple of years ago, during one of the stranger hours of my life, I sat in a hotel room in the Kingdom of Lesotho and, in the course of an interview, asked Fabio Capello what book he had by his bedside. He started to answer my question, through an interpreter. "A political one," he suggested--but, ever careful, he took the precaution, before he named the volume in question, of whispering the title to one of the pair of nervy Football Association press officers who were in attendance. No sooner had the book's title left his lips than a shadow passed over the face of Adrian Bevington, then head of media relations for the FA. After a brief discussion, it was decided that under no circumstances should the England manager disclose the name of the book to which he turned for comfort in the small hours. Ever since, every time I have studied Capello's adamantine countenance on the touchline, I have found myself speculating about the book that dared not speak its name. If England are winning, I charitably assume it to be Machiavelli's Prince, or Sun Tzu's Art of War. If they are losing, I take it to have been The Da Vinci Code.
As a linguist
"Unfortunately," as Capello's Milanese mentor Silvio Berlusconi once observed, "Fabio has one small fault. It is that dialogue forms no part of his approach." The smartest tactic Capello has employed since he arrived in England has been to exaggerate that quality by extending it to selective difficulty with monologue. Capello promised that he would brush up his English conversation in the month before he took control of his first match. As it was--though he apparently spoke reasonably fluently in private--he did not address the press without an interpreter for six months.
Since then, one of the more postmodern spectacles of our time has been the sight of grown men on Sky Sports News attempting earnest textual analysis of the pidgin postmatch cliches of foreign managers--as if somewhere within them were contained subtle nuance. Capello established this triumphant, quietly mocking trend ("Is good that we play to win the ball, this I like"), one that has been happily picked up by his countrymen Roberto Mancini and Carlo Ancelotti. The trickier the question, the more their grasp of syntax seems to desert them. Capello's first choice for South Africa was the canny decision not to take a translator with him.
As a loser
The simple understanding of Capello is that he is a born winner. Just look at the CV: seven league titles in Spain and Italy, conqueror of Johan Cruyff's dream team, Barcelona, in the heroic European Cup final of 1994. But all winners were losers once.
Capello is a child of postwar Europe. He was born in 1946, not long after his father had returned from internment in Nazi concentration camps (where he had been a prisoner after Mussolini was deposed and where he nearly starved to death). Childhood was frugal and spartan. As a player, Capello was a late developer; in the 1974 World Cup, the only one in which he participated, Italy did not advance out of the group stages. Despite a glittering domestic career, he never won a European medal - in 1969, his Roma were humiliated 4-0 by Swindon Town in the Anglo-Italian Cup. In common with nearly all the great managers, he suffered an injury that forced him into premature retirement.
So, he well understands the price of experience. For holidays, he chooses to visit ancient ruins: Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu. As Adrian Chiles might say: "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
As an art critic
Capello claims to do a lot of his football thinking while contemplating masterpieces in the National Gallery and the Tate. His friend Dino Zoff, the great goalkeeper, used to call him "the surveyor", because "he understood all the angles and diagonals". Capello cites Kandinsky as an artistic inspiration, no doubt sensing the deeper possibilities of the 4-4-2 in the Russian painter's biomorphic forms, with their supple, non-geometric linear flow (think David Pleat's chalkboard in technicolour). …