Russia's RT sports anchor Kate Partridge says it hasn't been complete smooth sailing for Fabio Capello since his appointment as new Russia coach.
In terms of local media reaction, it's so far, so good for Fabio Capello.
Before the Olympics were underway, Russia was still reeling from Dick Advocaat’s disappointing swansong, which culminated in the national team’s shock group-stage exit at the Euros.
Consequently, the feeling was that anyone could do a better job. On reflection, Capello has been realistically appraised as a highly successful coach due to his record of having won the domestic league title with every team he has managed - along with his disciplined, winning mentality.
There is some scepticism about his international record after England’s failure to go beyond the Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup, despite concluding his time with the Three Lions with a winning record of almost 67%. To some, the proof will be in the pudding, with the taster coming in the friendly at home to Ivory Coast on August 15th.
There remain lingering questions about the funding of his contract.
Just prior to Capello’s appointment, there was speculation in England that billionaires Suleiman Kerimov and Leonid Fedun – respective owners of Anzhi Makhachkala and Spartak Moscow – would fund his estimated €10 million-plus-bonuses salary. Then, when it was revealed at his unveiling that Capello planned to bring in five Italian assistants, it prompted former USSR and Spartak defender-turned-columnist Yevgeny Lovchev to ask who will be paying for them.
It’s presumed that the new Russian Football Union chief, who will be elected in September to take over from 85-year-old stand-in supremo Nikita Simonyan, will have the task of finding a sponsor for Capello’s contract.
The media won't hold back on the Italian. As Advocaat will happily confide, the local pundits can be ruthless.
There’s a feeling among the Russian media that after enduring the rigorous scrutiny of the English press, Capello can handle anything. That said, the Russian media were mercilessly vitriolic in their criticism of Advocaat and his team after their Euros exit.
Comments ranged from the relatively mild “disgraceful” and “lazy”, progressed to the dismissive “waste of space” and accusing the players of focusing on bonuses rather than national pride. They ultimately questioned the legitimacy of the team and suggested Advocaat 'should find his way to Hell'! The squad were also humiliatingly given the same name as the group of singing grandmothers who represented Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest (though at least they came second).
However, after almost fifty years in football, and having managed at the highest level in Italy, Spain and England, Capello is unlikely to be unduly affected by the football environment – though he might find the Russian winter rather more of a shock to his system.
And on that note, the new Russian football season might have adapted to a “western” autumn-spring format, but it will still avoid the harshest weather conditions by taking a winter break from December 13th until March 10th. This could prove to be an advantage for the Italian.
In England, where there’s no break, Capello’s teams were arguably more successful in September and October (beating Croatia 4-1, Kazakhstan 5-1 and Belarus 3-1 in their World Cup 2010 qualifying campaign), but less so in spring and summer when fatigue hit and they relied more on their organisation to grind out results.
Consequently, England’s best players often ran the risk of being tired or injured by the time of a major tournament in the summer.
The one benefit of such a relentless programme means the players remain match fit, which is useful not only domestically but also in terms of European club competitions for the more successful teams. However, Russia has a five-month gap between their qualifier at home to Azerbaijan on October 16th and their trip to Northern Ireland on March 22nd, so hopefully neither fitness nor a glut of injuries should be an issue in Capello’s squad selection.
Capello’s winning mentality and emphasis on discipline should suit the Russian psyche, though it depends on how the players adapt to his style. A successful start in September’s World Cup qualifiers against Northern Ireland and Israel would help inspire widespread enthusiasm for his new regime.
It's also encouraging to hear Capello’s promise to blood youngsters – just as he promoted youth in England with players such as Theo Walcott, Kyle Walker and Jack Wilshere – while scouring the second and third tiers of the Russian leagues for different talent.
There has been criticism of Capello’s appointment, notably by former national team manager and again recent candidate, Valery Gazzaev, who claimed it would kill off Russian coaching. Despite his respect for former Russia managers Advocaat and Guus Hiddink as well as Capello, and agreeing to foreign coaches at club level, Gazzaev says: “No matter how good a foreign specialist is, he can't know the history of our football, its traditions; this isn’t a (Russian) patriot at the end of the day”.
Advocaat didn’t speak Russian and not only managed the national team but also Zenit St. Petersburg for three successful years, while Guus Hiddink took Russia to the semi-finals of Euro 2008 without being able to speak the language. So, in theory, the linguistic issue should not be a barrier to success.
On the flip side, Capello’s failure to fulfil his promise of learning to speak English to a sufficient standard severely dented his public relations; if the media couldn’t understand him, then how could he transmit his ideas to the team?
England, now under the guiding hand of Roy Hodgson, have so far shown a positive response to being led by a native English speaker, albeit a polyglot.
For Capello, only time will tell if winning is the key to keeping silent those only too willing to highlight the negatives of his appointment.