FOX Soccer Exclusive
Nationalists come out in wake of Capello
On a day when English soccer shuddered to take in the combined effects of two volcanic managerial eruptions – Harry Redknapp walking free from court followed in a matter of hours by Fabio Capello dashing out from the country - perhaps the biggest shocker was summed up by a voice clanging over the radio waves. The phone-in shows were full of opinions, loaded with passion, getting stuck in, and one man came out with the admission that “with the foreigner gone, at last I can watch England games again.”
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There was a pregnant pause. The presenter sought clarification. Had this fan really refused to watch matches because the coach was from overseas?
“Absolutely.” It felt like one of those moments when you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Although this fan represented a particularly extreme view, the moment Capello resigned acted as a kind of trigger for the majority of the football fraternity in England to jump into that grey area between patriotism and xenophobia. The overriding opinion, whether it came out gently or stridently, is that the next England manager has to come from within. Current players, former players, commentators, supporters, spoke more or less as one.
“Got to be English to replace him,” tweeted Wayne Rooney. “We don’t need anything else lost in translation,” noted Rio Ferdinand pointedly. “Surely we stick to an Englishman,” added Michael Owen. “New man should be English,” reflected Gary Lineker, ex-World Cup striker and current football presenter. Barry Fry, a manager, got so worked up in a TV interview he ended up shouting at the television cameras: “We don't want any more of these foreigners! We've had enough of foreigners!"
In the analysis of Capello’s tenure, it was astonishing how much of the observations concerned the effects of his nationality rather than his football strategies. Journalists who had been on the England beat throughout Capello’s reign bemoaned how he could barely speak English and how much of a struggle it had been to communicate with him properly. There was even considerable snobbishness that the interview which led to the severing of relations between Capello and the Football Association was done in Italian, via a television show broadcast in Italy. Capello had openly disagreed about how the John Terry captaincy issue had been handled and the die was cast.
The Italian newspaper La Repubblica summed it all up pretty well, observing, "The English could not stand him any longer and he could not stand the English any more. A politically correct excuse was required to terminate a marriage which has never been consummated, and the Terry case, with its racist undertone, was perfect."
There is something very uncomfortable about the chain of events that has unfolded over the past few days. Terry was stripped of the England captaincy because of his trial for alleged racism. That led to Capello quitting. Which in turn prompted an outbreak of anti-foreigner remarks from within the English game.
Then, to cap it all, the FA appointed Stuart Pearce to take temporary charge of team affairs, and it took less than 24 hours for the Sun, the most read newspaper in the country, to dredge up an old story about a racist outburst from Pearce to his old England teammate, Paul Ince, and blast it all over their front page.
And in the middle of all of this mayhem stands a beacon of Englishness and a proud patriot: Harry Redknapp. The Tottenham manager is the overwhelming favorite to take over as England’s new boss.
While he is a candidate with many merits, it is worth pointing out that the pool of English coaches from which to choose is tiny. Only three of the Premier League’s 20 coaches are from England. Besides, the last English coach to take charge of the national team, Steve MacLaren, failed to qualify for a major finals. Capello might not have been everybody’s cup of tea, but he did guide England smoothly through the campaigns to reach the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship.
With all eyes honed on Redknapp, it is hard to imagine a more bizarre set of surroundings in the build up to an important home match for Tottenham against Newcastle this weekend. How nice for any England fans who happen to be at White Hart Lane to be able to cheer on the influence of the Dutch, Welsh, Americans, Togolese, French, Argentinians, Senegalese and all the other foreigners who light up the Premier League every week.