After taking on the role of England coach in January 2008, Fabio Capello's record has been impressive, winning 12 of his 15 games in charge. Seven of those victories have come in their seven qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, results which have left the Three Lions in with a chance of sealing their place as early as 9 September, when Croatia, their nemesis in the preliminaries for UEFA EURO 2008, travel to Wembley.
The former Roma, AC Milan and Real Madrid coach sat down with FIFA.com in Johannesburg for an exclusive chat, which centred on his reasons for travelling to South Africa during the FIFA Confederations Cup, plans for getting the England team ready for next year's FIFA World Cup, and worries that injuries to his key players could hinder their bid to win the ultimate prize on 11 July 2010.
During the interview, which is available on video by clicking on the link on the right, Capello also considers which of his current players have the potential to follow in his footsteps and why he feels freshening up the squad could be the way to keep players motivated and focused ahead of next year's finals.
FIFA.com: Fabio, why are you here in South Africa?
Fabio Capello: I'm here because we hope that we'll be back next year and we're looking to find a place that we'll use. I've also been able to watch a few games, which is very useful for me. When you watch a match on TV, it's not the same. When you're at a match yourself, it's easier to see the position of the players and their aptitude.
In terms of a possible base for the England team for next year's finals, what exactly are you looking for?
We're looking for a place keeping altitude, plus the standard of the pitches and the hotel in mind. They're the three things that are the most important to us.
Have you had the opportunity to visit any famous places in South Africa?
No, it's just been a case of looking at places for the next World Cup, but it's the fourth time I've visited South Africa.
Having attended a few matches at the FIFA Confederations Cup, what type of experience do you think England will have in the country next year?
First of all, I hope the fans will be with us! That's the most important thing. But South Africa is an exciting country - they will find a lot of fresh things to do.
In the history of the FIFA World Cup, Brazil are the only team to win a tournament in a different part of the world from where they're from. Do you think England have the potential to buck that trend?
In the history of football, Brazil are the best team in the world; the number of World Cups they've won shows that. It won't be easy, but we have a chance. I always try to win with my teams. My mentality is such that when you play against any team, you play to win. I hope we can do it.
It won't be easy, but we have a chance. I always try to win with my
teams. My mentality is such that when you play against any team, you
play to win.
Who else would you say are genuine contenders?
I can't see the future and we don't know which teams will be affected by injury. If some teams are missing their important players, they won't be the same. Every team has their best players and they are vitally important for success. You can plan all the tactics, create a great team spirit, but a team's best players, the ones that can provide something extra, are the ones who can decide a match.
Obviously, in terms of the increased altitude, acclimatisation will be crucial. Are you considering taking the squad to a training camp in a neighbouring country ahead of next year's finals, and do you have any plans?
We're looking at the prospect of going to Austria ahead of the next World Cup, before coming to South Africa a week before the tournament begins. We won't have any problems with jet lag and in terms of getting used to the climate here, a week will be enough.
Over the years, you have won an impressive number of titles in your first year in charge of various clubs. What do you do to accelerate the process and get immediate results?
The most important thing is to understand where you're working, the attitude of the players, the attitude the country or the attitude of the city. For example, in Milan people are more reserved, while in Rome people are more passionate. You can do different things, but you must understand the mentality of the place. Then you do what you think will help the players and the team. But I think I've been successful because I've worked with really good players. We've always been united and worked together.
The team is being seen to have made improvements and achieved good results since you took charge. Where do you feel there is still work to be done?
When we started, during the first training session, I was very happy. But after the first game against Switzerland, I understood why the England team had a problem. The problem was Wembley. The problem was no confidence. The problem was the group. There were a lot of problems, but I've been working on these things and the result has been OK so far.
Do you think that the fast-paced nature of English club football has proved to be a problem on the international stage, particularly at tournaments?
No, not really. Every country has a different style. The Spanish pass the ball, the Brazilians play with fantasy and the English are stronger. The four best teams in England all play with a different style. They don't use long balls, but a lot of passes - a perfect mix of the English and Mediterranean styles.
England are currently sixth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Do you think that this is an accurate reflection of the team's standing in world football at present?
We're happy with the current position, because when I started we were 12th. But the final results that we achieve are more important than where we are in the Ranking.
The country has a history of qualifying for major tournaments, but not reaching semi-finals and finals. How are you planning to take them further?
I'd like to answer that question after a successful World Cup next year.
How do you intend to keep the players motivated and focused on the importance of international football between the time you qualify and next June?
It's a difficult job for us. You always have to be focused, you have to study the season and the time you're playing the first game [of the World Cup]. It's not easy, because sometimes at the end of the season the players are tired, so you have to find a way of preparing that leaves the players fit and ready for the first game.
If you did qualify early, say after the next round of qualifiers in September, would you experiment with your team in the international matches that followed or do you think you would prefer to keep a settled line-up?
It's possible that we will experiment with the line-up, because that's really important. I did it in the last two [away] friendly games against Germany and Spain and it could be the same for those games.
Avoiding injuries is really, really important. Some players are the base of the team.
At recent tournaments, England have lost key players at key times and that has thrown them off course. Are you confident England have the strength-in-depth to cope with such potential losses?
I don't know what will happen. Avoiding injuries is really, really important. Some players are the base of the team. I hope that they will be fit. I remember I played a Champions League final without four key players through injury and I lost. I hope that I won't experience the same here.
If you consider England's youth teams, the U-21s have done well in Sweden, the U-20s have qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt, and the U-19s have reached the EURO finals in Ukraine. In terms of their development, how important is it that young players have taken part in these events?
They are really important. When you play at any level in England, you play against good teams, but not the same level as you would do in international games against international teams. You also start to understand what it means to wear the England shirt - and that's really important. As I said before, the academies are working very well in England and we can see the results. I'm very lucky, because I've had the opportunity to look at Arsenal's academy where the England team train and their work is incredibly good. It's a very important example for the other English academies. I'm very interested in the academies of the clubs in England, but they all seem to be working very well. I'm very, very happy about the future of England and I think it will be better.
In terms of England's future beyond 2010, are you excited by the young talents which are coming through?
There are some players who played in Sweden [at the UEFA U-21 European Championship] who have already played with us: Theo Walcott, Joe [Hart], [James] Milner, they are able to play with us. In the future, I think that we will have new players with us. I always follow the U-21 squad and Stuart Pearce, who is a really good manager, is always with me. We've spoken a lot about new players and sometimes when he's said, 'Fabio, he is good,' I've followed his advice.
Recently Stuart Pearce has said that he's 'inept' compared to you. I'm sure you disagree but what do you think he and the likes of Ray Clemence are learning from working with you?
I learn from them and they learn from me. I always want to stay humble and keep on learning. Stuart Pearce and Ray Clemence are really important for me in my job with the England team. They were really important players in England's history and they're really fantastic coaches.
You recently highlighted Sir Bobby Charlton as being your favourite English player. In 40 years time do you think the England coach might be saying the same about David Beckham, given his appeal as a player and a personality?
I was a midfielder and loved the movement of Bobby Charlton; his long passes, his shots. I'll always remember that. I don't know what the future will hold for David.
Finally, in terms of the players you've worked with since you've been England coach, which do you feel have the potential to become successful coaches?
Usually it's the midfielders. When you look at Italy and the successful Italian managers, they're usually midfielders. I don't know whether [Frank] Lampard, Gareth [Barry], [Owen] Hargreaves and Steven Gerrard will become managers, but when you're a midfielder you see the game from an attacking and defensive point of view - and it's for this reason why I think they can understand tactics easier.