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Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009


Capello deserves credit for a job well done

LONDON — There is still resentment in some quarters that England has an Italian manager, but if Fabio Capello leads his adopted country to victory over Croatia next Wednesday to secure a place in the 2010 World Cup finals, any remaining xenophobia will be among a hard-core minority who probably wouldn't buy foreign cars.

Christopher Davies

In an ideal world England would have an English manager, just as other leading nations have home-born men in charge.

Capello took over from Steve McClaren, who was perceived to be the best of the English bunch after Sven-Goran Eriksson moved on in 2006. Credit to the Football Association for next time choosing the best man available rather than the best Englishman they could find.

The man born in San Canzian d'Isonzo has taken England to the brink of qualification with a perfect record to date.

Capello's English has barely improved in his two years in charge, leading to suspicions that he does not plan to stay on after next year's World Cup when he will be 64. One way or another, he gets his message through to the players, which is all that really matters, and given luck with injuries and the draw, England can reasonably expect to reach the semifinals in South Africa.

A private man, many believe Capello rules by fear, but you do not win eight titles in Italy and Spain by breathing fire.

Yes, he is a disciplinarian, but more importantly a master tactician. The difference between winning and losing in 2009 is not so much picking the right starting XI and formation but changing when it is needed.

Capello's substitutions have been inspired and effective to a degree that David Beckham believes England can win the World Cup next year with his former Real Madrid coach at the helm.

As he prepared for Saturday's friendly against Slovenia, ahead of the visit of Croatia, Beckham said: "You have to go into a competition believing that you can go all the way.

"I believe that we've got a chance if we play like we've been playing and have the togetherness that we've shown all the way through the qualifiers. You need a certain amount of luck along the way, of course, but we have got the players and we have got the team."

Crucially, England also has the manager.

"He's changed the mentality of the players," said the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder. "The way the players prepare themselves, the way we spend the week together is very serious, very concentrated.

"It's working because we're not just winning games, we're together as a team. Even when we've come in at halftime and we're not winning, there's that spirit you can feel. That's what the manager has done."

* * * * *

YES, EDUARDO did dive to win a penalty for Arsenal against Celtic.

But the two-game ban handed out by UEFA is a total miscarriage of justice.

How on earth can a yellow card offense become four times as bad retrospectively?

UEFA has not explained this because it doesn't have to.

Had Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez sent off Eduardo for simulation, the referee would have been suspended for incorrect application of law.

Mejuto saw the incident, took the action he felt necessary at the time, which was to award Arsenal a penalty. From the referee's view this was entirely understandable.

Football law states the referee's decision is final in all matters, yet somehow UEFA has re-refereed the game and suspended Eduardo for a yellow card offense.

Eduardo was sanctioned in accordance with Article 10, paragraph 1c of the UEFA disciplinary regulations (misconduct of players) which states: "Players may be suspended for two competition matches, or for a specified period, for acting with the obvious intent to cause any match official to make an incorrect decision or supporting his error of judgment and thereby causing him to make an incorrect decision."

* * * * *

THE 2009 PRIZE for talking the most complete and utter rubbish will surely go to Vlatko Markovic, president of the Croatia Football Association.

He suggested that his country's Premier League-based players have been targeted by English hit men. Tottenham's Croatian midfielder Luka Modric broke a bone in his leg last weekend in a challenge with Lee Bowyer of Birmingham, 18 months after Eduardo of Arsenal sustained a broken leg after a red card tackle by Martin Taylor, coincidentally also of Birmingham.

"This is horrible," said Markovic. "I can only ask myself if it was really an accident. I'm close to thinking it was done to us deliberately before the England match."

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.

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