There is little doubt that Fabio Capello is an accomplished manager. He has been a collector of trophies across his 36-year coaching career, most notably winning nearly everything domestically and on the European front with Italian giants AC Milan in the early 1990s. Though successful at club level, Capello is no stranger to the FIFA World Cup™. As a player, he represented Italy at Germany 1974, and 36 years later, he took England to the Round of 16 at South Africa 2010.
With Russia 2018 on the horizon, FIFA.com caught up with the 71-year-old to share in his World Cup memories. The current coach of Chinese club Jiangsu Suning looked back at the goal he scored in his only World Cup appearance and reflected on England’s 2010 campaign. He also shed light on Italy’s surprise failure to qualify for Russia 2018 and revealed his hopes for his former team and World Cup hosts Russia.
FIFA.com: As a world-class coach, how does it feel looking after a Chinese Super League team?
Fabio Capello: For me, working in Asia is a new venture in a different world – a world of fast development. A lot of work needs to be done, but the Chinese have both ambition and resources to improve their game. Their national team has a great manager in Marcello Lippi and he can provide the guidance for their football, in general.
This year’s World Cup is drawing near. What are your memories of playing – and scoring – at the World Cup in 1974? I scored a useless goal against Poland because we lost the game 2-1, and were thus eliminated by Argentina, due to goal difference. So it wasn’t a World Cup which left me with fond memories. I knew there were many Italian immigrant workers in Germany [supporting us], but we packed for home after the group stage.
Were you fascinated by the World Cup as a youngster? What do you remember about watching it in those early days?
I have always been in love with football. As a child, I started playing football. The first World Cup I followed was Sweden 1958. I watched the games on TV. Brazil won that World Cup by defeating Sweden 5-2 in the Final and Pele scored twice. After so many years, I still remember Pele’s goals. That World Cup saw his emergence as a great star.
Were you disappointed to only play in one World Cup? Did you feel you could have helped Italy in 1970 or 1978, in particular?
I was very disappointed to miss the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. I had played all the qualifying matches, but when we headed to the World Cup, I was left out of the squad. It remains a pity for me, to this day.
As a coach, what are the big challenges of leading a team at the World Cup?
To train a national team, you have to know what team you have at your disposal and what this team is capable of. You need to get the best out of them and take them as far as possible. Yet, sometimes, you can’t achieve your goals. Some players underperform playing under pressure and even key players make mistakes during a World Cup. A team needs leaders to drive it forward, but you never know how it will end.
Looking back now, how do you reflect on England’s campaign at South Africa 2010?
It was sad. Against Germany, we could have drawn them level at 2-2 during the first half. Probably, we should talk about another World Cup for England. The only problem for England is that their players [go to the World Cup] tired after a stressful season, during which they have never been rested.
Why do you think the English always tend to struggle at major tournaments, despite the talented players the country produces? Do you think there is any chance of that changing in Russia?
For this World Cup, England have youngsters with great talent and knowledge. It is possible that these young men don’t feel the pressure, so they might play without tension. A key problem, in my opinion, is that they come [to the World Cup] very physically tired to compete with teams, whose players are not so fatigued.
Would you have liked a Harry Kane in your England team?
Harry Kane is a great striker, who is important [for the team]. He is the sort of player that every team want to have. Above all, he has a good nose for goal. He doesn’t wait for the ball. Instead, he moves constantly in attack to create danger. He is definitely a player to watch in Russia.
You also know Russia well, of course. What do you think is a realistic objective for the team at this World Cup?
I saw the draw. They will get passed the first round. I have both taught and learned [during my tenure as Russia coach] and I hope these qualities can help the team stand in good stead and go further in this World Cup. This would be another success for this nation, who have invested big into football.
And what do you expect of the country itself as hosts of the tournament?
There should be no problems. Russia is a great country and the people are great. They have invested a great deal [in hosting the World Cup] and the security there is very good. They want to make a big impression in front of the watching world and they can make it a great tournament.
One of the big surprises in Russia 2018 qualifying was Italy’s failure to reach the finals. What did you make of that, and what do you feel needs to be done to improve the Azzurri’s fortunes?
It was so sad to see the Italian team fail to make the World Cup. We used to be protagonists on this global stage and have won this competition four times. But at this moment, Italian football does not have many talented players and the qualities of their game are not so high. It is time to start working from scratch to understand where we went wrong, and above all, to try to produce something different, based on the characteristics of Italian footballers, and not copying the characteristics of others.