Roll the tape forward two-and-a-half years.
A defensive England side are labouring towards a one-nil victory over Brazil in a supremely dull World Cup final in Johannesberg. John Terry puts the shackles on Robinho; Owen Hargreaves marks Kaka out of the game and Micah Richards doesn't even allow Ronaldinho enough space to floss his impressively large teeth. The seconds tick away. Wayne Rooney dribbles towards the corner flag and shows no signs of moving. The three minutes of injury time are up, the referee blows for full-time and it is confirmed: England are World Champions. Fair enough, they had a scare getting out of the group stages after a fortunate draw against Ghana and yes, the penalty that handed them victory in the quarter final against France was for a foul a few inches outside the box. But the two words tripping off the lips of football fans up and down the land are these; who cares?! Who cares that the manager is Italian? Who cares if his philosophy is built on a sturdy back-line? Who cares if England only managed to score more than one goal twice in the competition? A fanciful notion it all may be but if Fabio Capello can instil order, discipline and structure into an England side that unquestionably has talent who knows how far they can go? If those who have played under him are to be believed, the 61-year-old Italian will be arriving in England with an iron fist, short shrift for prima donnas and an insatiable desire to succeed. Sounds alright to this observer. Capello also touches down with a pedigree as a coach that cannot be questioned. He's won seven Scudetto, two La Liga titles, a Champions League trophy and a European Super Cup. It was as boss of AC Milan that he bagged European football's most glittering prize, and he did it with a jaunty swagger, thrashing Barcelona 4-0. The man already being pegged as a negative tactician has handled and inspired the likes of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, David Beckham, Ronaldo, Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro del Piero and Pavel Nedved. Even if he does build his teams on defensive stability is that really such a problem? After all, this is an England team who conceded five goals in their last two competitive games. Who knows, he may even be able to come up with a formation that coaxes the best out of perennial underachievers Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. This is a man familiar with many styles of play, who will drill his players repeatedly on the training ground to ensure they get it right and also to ensure they are at a supreme level of physical fitness.
GettyImagesSoccer City: Set to be the venue where Capello delivers England the World Cup.
All of which is a far cry from Steve McClaren's hopeful double gamble for the crucial Croatia game last month; employing a new and untried system while taking another long-shot on an inexperienced goalkeeper. The former Boro boss also did himself few favours through blurring the lines of authority by becoming far too familiar and 'matey' with his star players. Expect nothing similar from the Italian, who has never been shy of exerting his authority. When boss at Real Madrid last season he told the club's hierarchy he wanted rid of Ronaldo, who he mocked openly for being overweight, then he reacted to news of David Beckham's pre-contract agreement with LA Galaxy by declaring the midfielder wouldn't play for the Spanish club again. But in that period he also demonstrated humility and a willingness to admit he was wrong as he grew fond of Beckham's tireless work ethic and re-instated the winger, seeing his decision rewarded by a string of excellent performances that played a huge part in Real's eventual title success. The message is clear; hard work and a good attitude will amount to respect and fairness from the boss. And with a country crying out for unrelenting passion, spades of commitment and an insatiable will to win the sound of a manager working our pampered Premier League stars to the bone will be music to their ears. Finally we might actually get to see what the infamous 'golden generation' are made of. Changes should well be noticeable off the pitch too and, thankfully, a lot less lively, Capello being a dedicated family man who has been married to his wife Laura for 40 years. That too is a long way from the reams of print racked up in a series of seedy red-top tales devoted to the off-field antics of Sven Goran Eriksson. How Capello copes with the intense pressure exerted by the national media will be interesting though. Yes he has been used to rumour, conjecture, criticism and abuse during his high-profile reigns at AC Milan and Real Madrid, but nothing like the English press can serve up. However, we can expect no petulant toy-throwing like McClaren and no staccato platitudes like the ever-dull Eriksson. Capello will either tell it exactly like it is, or refuse to answer any question he doesn't fancy. The fact that he speaks little English may even prove an advantage in the early stages, although little pressure will fall on his shoulders until competitive action begins in September 2008.
GettyImagesFabio Capello: Defensive-minded but able to adopt different tactical plans.
In the meantime expect Capello to get round the grounds and learn the Premier League's culture first-hand, fine tune his master plan and install the backroom staff he requires to deliver success to a hungry country. Eriksson was met with scepticism, being the first foreign coach of England's national team, and he persistently failed to convince the football-loving public that he could produce the goods on the field, especially as he was having such a whale of a time off it. McClaren's appointment was simply met with disappointment, not to mention derision. Now, hopefully, Capello will be embraced by English fans and media alike and allowed to get on with job the way he sees fit. He certainly deserves that chance being a respected, and trusted, winner. With plenty of time to build his empire and an encouraging crop of young players emerging, maybe that dream of a turgid one-nil win in South Africa two-and-a-half years from now is closer than you might think.
GettyImagesCapello took Milan to four titles in five years and the 1994 Champions League.