An integral part of the coaching armoury of Fabio Capello – a league champion with three Italian clubs and one Spanish one – is his ability to help his players improve, as evidenced by the performances of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Francesco Totti, Gabriel Batistuta and Ronaldo under his steady hand.
In the second part of an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Russia coach continued to look back over his career, as well as giving his views on some of the prevailing trends in modern football, tactical insights on his past and present teams, and intriguing observations on his current role and his time at the England helm.
FIFA.com: Fabio, as one of Italy’s leading coaches, what’s your verdict on the current Azzurri squad?
Fabio Capello: They’ve got a very interesting side, with good players and a great coach. They could be one of the revelations of the next World Cup. Cesare Prandelli has assembled a great squad with a winning mentality. I think he’s done an extraordinary job.
In tactical terms, how have things changed since you were coaching back in your homeland?
With Milan I always used to play 4-4-2, which would turn into a 4-3-3 because my right-sided midfielder – whether it was Ruud Gullit or Dejan Savicevic – would become an extra forward. In fact, we used to attack with five or six players. When at Roma we won the scudetto playing with a back three, at Real Madrid we went back to using a four-man defence, just as we’ve been doing in recent years with England and Russia. In my opinion, the key nowadays is to use more midfielders, because they’re the ones who adapt best to the changing patterns within a game and their creativity can give you something extra. For that reason, when your team is able to cancel out the likes of [Andrea] Pirlo, Xavi or [Andres] Iniesta, then you’ve taken a step forward.
So, do you believe in the philosophy used by Barcelona and Spain that involves deploying midfielders in a variety of positions?
Yes, but if your players haven’t got the quality of those [Pep] Guardiola had at his disposal, then you won’t get anywhere. And it’s not just about using just any midfielder – they have to be the real deal. Look at the game between Italy and Spain at the Confederations Cup, when [Daniele] de Rossi ended up playing as a libero and Javi Martinez as a No9. If you’ve got players of that calibre, anything is possible.
What would you say were the main differences between coaching a club and a national team?
When you’re at a club you can speak to a player whenever you want, as well as getting a better understanding of what the team needs and where the problems are. It’s easier to build squad spirit and, above all else, it’s possible to help players improve their performances and work on different tactical systems. At national-team level you only get your players four days before each match and it makes things much more complicated. In these cases the key factors are mentality, creating a sense of squad spirit that all the players share and, more than anything else, using the short time you have to make sure the players understand what you want from them. They’re completely different jobs and the pressure’s very different too.
Do you feel, therefore, that you should adapt the system to suit the players?
Of course, you need to find a tactical formation that fits their qualities and not the other way around. A good coach manages to put his players in the positions where they perform best.
What specific difficulties have you encountered since taking the Russia job?
The main difficulty comes through using a translator, because you never know if they’ve managed to get across exactly what you wanted to say, particularly in a match situation when the right words can really help a team. Getting the terminology right can change everything. Training-wise things are easier, but you do also miss the weight of certain words.
Is it more difficult to find players to fill the various positions than it was in your previous role with England, for example?
One of the major difficulties here is that the teams only have four or five Russian players and that’s because they’re forced to do so. The number of players you’re able to choose from is very limited compared to the likes of Spain, Italy and France. So it comes down to doing thorough research and choosing well. I live in Moscow and I watch three of four games a week, as do my coaching assistants. We’ve only got around 60 players to choose from, and it’s vital to be totally prepared so you select the very best.
What’s more, there aren’t many Russians playing in the world’s major leagues, are there?
It’s a problem, as we’ve only got four players at clubs outside Russia. And we don’t have players with foreign roots to call upon, like Germany, France, England or Portugal can. That restricts our options too. Russian players are technically very good, but there’s a need for star names able to tip the balance of a game. I think the fact that nowadays the Russian league is signing some real top names could help the local players become more competitive.
Do you feel like the pressure was greater when you were coaching England?
On the pitch perhaps, yes, but away from football you can live very well [in England]. The English media put you under an awful lot of pressure, that’s very clear, but it’s hard to compare that with what happens in Russia because here I can’t understand what the journalists say! (laughs) But, to be honest, I don’t let it get to me much.
With the benefit of hindsight and a little distance, what's your overall verdict on your time as England coach?
I think it went very well, but it could have gone even better. The way we went out [of South Africa 2010] against Germany still hurts. That aside, I feel satisfied. I arrived after the team had missed out on qualifying for EURO 2008, but under me we easily made it through two qualifying campaigns. My win record was very good and I also gave loads of young players a chance, such as Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, James Milner and Joe Hart. Theo Walcott had already played a game for England but he established himself under me. I feel I left a good legacy.
Finally, given your experience, why do you think England haven’t been able to take that final step and challenge for major trophies?
Because they’re tired [going into tournaments]. They’re the least fresh of any of the competing national sides, because their league doesn’t have a break. It’s like when you’re driving a car: if you stop halfway to put fuel in then you’ll definitely get where you want to go, but if you don’t then there’s always the chance you’ll be running on empty before you reach your goal. In my opinion the football played in the first half of the English season is much better than in the second half. And because of that, if you want to be a competitive team in the Premier League, you need a really big squad, which is a luxury you don’t get with the national team.