How Fabio Capello lost his game of Russian roulette

Former Russia manager Fabio Capello was in Edinburgh yesterday reflecting on his career in management and addressing the difficulties of working abroad.

Retired manager Fabio Capello discussed the problems of working in Russia and China during a visit to Edinburgh yesterday. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Retired manager Fabio Capello discussed the problems of working in Russia and China during a visit to Edinburgh yesterday. Picture: Ian Georgeson

As well as managing in some of the most high-profile hotbeds of world football, such as Milan and Rome, and leading England for a four-year spell, Capello has proved 

He finished his career by taking jobs in Russia and China. These tenures ended abruptly. On both occasions the main challenge was being paid the severance sum he was owed. Managers are not protected in the way players are.

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Capello was speaking at the Edinburgh Sports Conference, hosted by Edinburgh law firm Lombardi Associates, on the eve of Scotland’s Group I Euro 2020 qualifier with Russia.

Hearts owner Ann Budge was in the audience and at one point the Italian asked her if more was expected of a manager in Scotland than simply coaching. “Oh yes, much more,” said Budge, aware she had a director of football/manager in charge of team affairs at present.

Capello has announced his retirement so Craig Levein can rest easy. The Italian could also do without the pressure of lifting Hearts away from the relegation area. His time in charge of Russia sounded enough to put him off football for life. Despite the Russian Football Union being beset by financial problems at the time, Capello managed to ensure the team qualified for the World Cup finals in Brazil, where they failed to win a game. He was meant to lead them until they hosted the next World Cup but left midway through the qualifying campaign for Euro 2016.

“Things were very difficult,” he said. “We were playing Austria – we were second, they were first. We lost 1-0 [at home]. We were missing several players – we didn’t have the strongest squad at the time anyway. I was at the airport, they said: ‘come back’. When I did, it was: ‘you’re gone, you’re fired’. Getting money out of there is very difficult but they sorted something out.”

The 73-year-old revealed that he worked with six translators at Chinese club Jiangsu Suning: English (for an Australian player), South Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and two Italians – his own one and the club’s. “The main difficulty I had was communication, especially in Russia. They said we have our own translator. I said: ‘no, no, I bring my own’.”

Capello always made sure his contracts were pored over by his lawyer and insisted on clauses that, in one particular case, proved far-sighted. When he took the England job in 2008 he stipulated that the captain could not be imposed on him by the FA.

The team qualified for the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine after a disappointing World Cup in South Africa.

“Then John Terry had an alleged racist problem with the brother of Rio Ferdinand [Anton],” said Capello, speaking through an interpreter. “The FA phoned me: ‘We cannot have him as captain any longer, all the papers are pushing for this’. I said: ‘remember my contract, I can’t allow it’. It also meant we were saying he was guilty before any investigation [Terry was later cleared in court but found guilty by the Football Association of “using abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour” towards the then 
QPR defender].”

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Capello quit rather than accept the FA’s will because he had “to save face in the dressing-room”. The Italian thanked the many lawyers present in Edinburgh’s Signet Library yesterday for help in his career.

He has an aversion to agents, though his son, Pierfilippo is one. This is more palatable to his father since he is also a lawyer. “He became an agent when he was 30, nearly 20 years ago,” said Capello. “‘As long as I am a manager, I don’t want you to be an agent’, I told him – I don’t want that conflict of interest.”