Fabio Capello looks genuinely pleased when told that FourFourTwo have named him the best coach in the world during our first 150 issues. But if he's pleased, he is also rather surprised, throwing his hands in the air to say, “Who me?”
Yes, Fabio, you. Why? Because when FourFourTwo launched in 1994, Capello’s AC Milan side had just racked up a third successive Scudetto and hammered Johan Cruyff's Barcelona Dream Team 4-0 to win the European Cup. Since then he has won the Italian league with three different clubs and La Liga in his one and only season in Spain with Real Madrid.
And now, after three years of winning nothing, of not even getting close, Real Madrid are competing at last. You may not like his style, but he certainly gets results. The question is: how? And that's what we're here to find out.
You’ve had unrivalled success over the last 15 years. What's the secret? Wherever you go, you have to be absolutely convinced about your vision of football, but you also have to be prepared to work with humility. You have to look closely at the players you have, analyse them and know how to bring the very best out of every single one. How do you do that? By finding a playing style, a system, that allows the players to produce their best and by demanding that they make the greatest effort. They have to give everything when it comes to hard work and application; then, the way you play depends on the level of talent they can offer, their style. That's how you get the best out of them in a technical and tactical sense.
You do have a certain “Capello model”, but do you have to change it according to the club? Always, always. That's fundamental. Every club is different. The environment, the "climate", is different, they live football differently and you have to know where you are. Within the framework laid down by the club, you identify the things you like, the things you can use to achieve results, but you always have to respect the way that clubs live. Everyone has their idea of what’s the right style, the right system, but that's always going to depend on the club and the players you have. The most important thing is results. That's is not philosophy, it's a fact.
What are the major differences between the clubs you have coached? Juventus is like a machine. Everything is done in a certain way and everyone knows exactly how it works. [Gesticulating] Bang-bang-bang, and there it is. It's like a construction line in a car factory. You have to use that structure to build a good car, a car that you can sell. You have to give it a style, a model. But that always depends on the players that you have; you can't play the same style if you don’t have the same players. Roma is a club that is not used to wining all the time, like Milan or Juventus, so you have to work especially hard on the players' heads. You win a game there and you're world champions; you lose one and blah-blah-blah, it's a disaster. There's no sense of balance.
Did you have to change the way they think at Roma? Yes! Think. Work. Everything. Every day, every day, every day… work, work, work.
What about Milan and Madrid? At Milan there's always hope and expectation, everyone works with a great sense of illusion, aiming to be the best. Madrid, the first time round, had just had a very bad year. I had to unite them as a group of players very quickly. That's fundamental at any club: getting a group of players who are convinced by what you want to do, who follow the coach, who put in the work, who are aware of their obligations on and off the pitch. If you don’t have a good group with leaders, you won't get anywhere, whatever club you're at.
How do you convince those players, though? Madrid haven’t won anything for three years and appear to be divided. How do you unite them? Now it is a team. After the Celta game, even though we lost, I said I was happy. Why? Because I had seen that they were a team and I liked that. I could see the starting point. I saw a team that fights, that runs, that helps one another. You can lose because the ball can hit the post and go in or the ball can hit the post and come out, but if you're not united you're not going anywhere.
How have you achieved that? Working, talking, discussing things. You have to talk and you have to be demanding. I wouldn't say working with an iron fist but the players have to know that we're here to work. How much do we work? Two, three hours a day? It's not much, is it? So when we work we have to be serious, we have to put the effort in. And I mean all of us – the players, the doctors, the physios, the kit men, me, all of us. We have to be professional.
You're seen as a very serious coach… Yes, definitely. You can make jokes, sure, but when it's time to work it's time to be serious. People say: “I have a problem with my wife, with my kids, with my family.” Well, we all have problems but you have to work when you are here. As a coach you have to appreciate those problems and help where you can – my door is always open for the players – but when we have to work, we work. We don’t work much in terms of time, but our work is intense - or should be. You can work eight hours and hardly notice whereas in other jobs you do a couple of hours and you're dead. What I want is for the players to work seriously, with intensity, to listen, to do the things I ask them.
How important is it to control the whole institution, not just what goes on the pitch? Look, the way I see it you have to have global vision of every little thing that effects the team. You have to be united, everyone has to have a defined role, everyone has to contribute.
What's been your most satisfying moment? Winning the league with Roma seems more of a success than winning it with Milan, for instance… That was a real achievement. Roma wasn't a club when I arrived. Everyone just did their own thing. When I got there I had to put things in their place, I had to organise it. But that's true everywhere.
How big a success was winning the league with Roma? We did a great job there. I was lucky that the president allowed me and my team – because there was the director general and Franco Baldini as well – to do everything. We were given complete freedom. That league was a significant success but it's not like it came out of nowhere: we did have a good team. And, look, this is a very important point that needs making: however good a coach is, if he hasn’t got good players he will not win anything. That's fundamental. We don't have a magic wand. None of us do. But you have to know how to get the best out of the players - and they have to be able to produce it.
Talking of players, you've nearly always arrived at clubs with a shopping list and you invariably ask for a big, strong central midfielder: Vieira, Dacourt, Diarra … why is that such a key position for you? Look, if I had Makelele I wouldn’t have needed Diarra. And Makelele's not big, is he? Yes, I’ve wanted players of that kind of style because I think you need a player in that position with lots of personality, who knows how to read the game, who knows how to position himself. But we're not talking about strong players, we're talking about intelligent ones.
Would you like a Makelele? You said, "big and strong." Makelele is not big and strong. I wanted Diarra and Emerson. Players who know how to position themselves on the football pitch. Who said anything about big and strong? You lot [journalists] are free to say 'Capello always wants a powerful midfielder', but I'm talking about intelligence.
Have we got it wrong, then? Yes. Ha! Ha! It's intelligence. Makelele was an intelligent player who was always in the right place ready to give the right pass [gesticulating] pum-pum-pum-pum.
Football has changed a lot over the last 12 and a half years. Has your model changed? Football has developed in terms of speed, pressing, and the systems people use. The environment has changed too – sponsors, marketing, tours… That can make it more difficult. But, personally, my idea of football doesn't change with time, it evolves according to the players I've got. Every time I get new players, I evolve. I won a league at Roma with three defenders then I played with four… I’ve played with three up front, then with two… And, hey, don’t forget: it depends on the players' condition too. If there's a player who's in bad shape, who's tired, I won't play him. All those factors influence your style of play.
Players are not always as you expect … Exactly. When you get to a club you've already seen the players lots of times – you've read the reports, you've watched them on television, you've gone through all the DVDs – but when you get there it's different. The technical side is important, but quite often the head is more important. The psychological side is vital.
So how do you get in their mind? Can you be their friend? No, no. Definitely not. Because you have totally different roles, totally different. A footballer thinks about himself and only himself, I have to think about 25 players.
Are most footballers selfish? Most? All of them, every one. And rightly so. It's their career. My career is to deal with 25 players and chose 11 or 18. Their career is just to think about themselves. And when I don't play a player, I'm not his friend. That's why I can’t be their friend and shouldn't try.
So your role is to unite people who, in their own minds, have no reason to be united. Yes. But they work for a club, for a shirt, for a badge, and you have to make them aware of that. The player is egotistical, he has to play football. I have to make him see that he does that better with the team, that he owes something to the club. When a player is not playing and he's annoyed, he has to have some sense of team spirit. That's very, very important.
Can you treat all players the same? No. But there are some things that you have to do the same with all the players. For me, it's very important that the players know I respect them all equally, that I demand the same effort from all of them. But I can't treat them all the same because they don’t all respond in the same way.
You‘ve won the league in Italy, you’ve won the league in Spain. Do you feel you should complete the set by working in England? Yes, yes. I was very close to England. I was asked some time ago, before they chose Eriksson, to go for the England job …
Why didn’t you? I did. They didn’t choose me. [FFT: Why?] You'll have to ask the people who were there at the FA, I wouldn’t like to say.
Would you have liked to manage England? A lot. But the president [of the FA] said he wanted a nordico who spoke English.
And you don’t speak English? No. Well, a bit. And you can learn… I don’t think that was the problem.
Wasn't there interest from Manchester United too? When Alex Ferguson said he was leaving, six years ago. They made contact…
Then Ferguson decided to stay… Yes.
The one failure you had was the second spell at Milan, when you finished 10th. What went wrong? I got there having left here [Real Madrid] and I had a team that I'd not built. Things were a bit iffy there and we were unlucky too; we got to the final of the Italian Cup against Lazio and they awarded a penalty for a foul that was two metres outside the area and that killed us. After that, they sacked me, and the following year, with the team that I had built for them, they won the league, hahaha! Now, that was my team! Ha ha!