Not many people can justifiably lay claim to being a legend while they are still active, but Fabio Capello is one of them. A winner of every trophy going during his tenures at AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma, and latterly in charge of England, the 67-year-old coach is still working his magic, having steered Russia into a strong position in their bid to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
As the national team coach in the biggest country in the world, Capello is also an ambassador for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. It was in that capacity that he attended the recent FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013, where he sat down for an exclusive chat with FIFA.com, part one of which appears below.
FIFA.com: What did you make of the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 final?
Fabio Capello: The big question was how Brazil were going to take on a Spain side that everyone knows very well but have found difficult to stop. My feeling was that [Luiz Felipe] Scolari’s team were the favourites because they were at home, but to back up that status they had to beat a team that’s won the lot. The most interesting thing was the way in which the Brazilians won the ball back in midfield and prevented the Spanish from getting their usual 65 per cent possession.
La Roja had been invincible up to then. Do you think we’ve seen the blueprint for beating them?
I think Italy also showed the way in the semi-finals. They played with three defenders and that unsettled the Spanish, mainly because they closed down the space in midfield, fought hard for possession and avoided playing long balls. That’s why La Roja suffered and it allowed other coaches to see how they might be beaten. Felipão likes to do his homework and I’m sure he took good note of that.
Do you think Del Bosque’s side have lost that aura of being unbeatable?
Spain have their own style, from youth level up. You also have to remember that they had one day’s less rest and had to play extra time against Italy in very hot conditions. When it gets as hot as that I think it would be a good idea to have a minute’s break in each half so the players can have a drink. I think it would make a big difference.
To my mind the modern formation is 9-1. You’ve got nine who defend and nine who attack. You need to have a block of players, even when you’re on the attack.
What’s your view of this Brazil side?
Brazil have some dangerous players with the ability to put together some fantastic moves. Even in midfield they’ve got players who are very comfortable on the ball, though it is true that they don’t have many who you’d call creative. They’ve got Neymar, and Oscar more or less fits the description. It’s a team that’s more muscular than the fans here would like. They’re pining for the teams of 1970 and 1982, but all the same they’re a very hard side to beat.
The pressing game they play in midfield is more or less the same as the system you used at Milan, isn’t it?
It was an innovation back then, when the custom was for forwards not to do any pressing. Obviously things have changed a lot and everyone does it now. In the modern game it’s virtually impossible to win if you don’t. I also think it’s a little absurd that people still talk about 4-3-3, 4-4-2 and all that. To my mind the modern formation is 9-1. You’ve got nine who defend and nine who attack. You need to have a block of players, even when you’re on the attack. You can’t have a team occupying an area of 40 or 50 metres. You just don’t see that any more. These days you have to be compact, with everyone in a maximum of 20 or 30 metres.
While we’re on the subject, when you were coach at Real Madrid you were attributed with saying ‘attacking football is not modern’. Is that true?
I never said that. There are a lot of things on the internet that are false. In my first season at Madrid we played with Raul, [Davor] Suker and [Pedrag] Mijatovic, with Victor on the right and [Fernando] Redondo and [Clarence] Seedorf in the middle. Does that sound like a defensive team to you? We also used three forwards the second time around. I’ve always liked to have a lot of attacking players, though it has to be said that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to win lots of games. I remember one time when I played [Ruud] van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo up front together. How did it work out? We lost three games out of five and let Barcelona open up a nine-point gap. In the end we won the title with a lot fewer attacking players. You’d think you’d score a lot of goals with strikers like that, but that’s not necessarily the case.
So the famous Galáctico system wasn’t so effective after all.
We had [David] Beckham on the right and Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooy up front with Raul but we didn’t win (laughs). There was an awful lot of talent but we couldn’t put all of them on the pitch at the same time.
We’re into the second decade of the 21st century. What does modern football mean now do you think?
Are you talking about on the pitch or off it, because they’re two different things? In terms of the media it’s grown a lot and it gets a tremendous amount of exposure on TV, in the papers and online. It’s big business. As for what happens on the pitch I think the game has really opened up. The fact you can study how the game’s played all over the world has given coaches the chance to inform themselves and play a very tactical game. It’s difficult to win now if you don’t have very good players. Look at the first half of the Confederations Cup semi-final between Brazil and Uruguay, which was very tactical, with hardly any space anywhere. Both sides knew exactly what the other was going to do. It seems that these days, like the Italian journalist Gianni Brera said, ‘the perfect game is 0-0’.
Is there still room for innovation?
There have been three revolutions in recent football history. In the 1970s there was Ajax with their high offside line and pressing game. Then in the 1980s and 90s there was Milan, and now there’s Barcelona, who’ve shown how to keep the ball and how to win it back aggressively when they lose it. As we’ve seen, when people study these innovations and get a command of them, then you start to see new developments taking place.
And when will we see the next one? What will football be like in the future?
That’s a good question and not an easy one to answer. You get these revolutions every 15 years more or less. The Barcelona one happened not so long ago so I think we’ll have to wait a little longer to see how things turn out
Don’t miss part two of this exclusive interview with Fabio Capello tomorrow.