Managing International Teams – Can Fabio Capello Harness the Bulldog Spirit?

Matthew MacLachlan

23 Jun 2010

Fabio Capello has been under constant criticism ever since England started their World Cup campaign with a draw against the USA. At the time, people acknowledged that this poor start was not helped by the horrendous mistake made by the goalkeeper, Robert Green. But sceptics pointed out that England did not capitalise on the goal scoring opportunities that would have eclipsed Green’s mistake.

The second match saw things go from bad to worse with an abject draw against the Algerians who gave an excellent performance. The end of the match saw Rooney castigating the England supporters for booing and talk of dissent and unrest surfaced in the England camp. Suddenly, stories started to appear about communication problems between Capello and his team, and the different points of view that were threatening to send England back home embarrassingly early, shredding a nation’s hopes to pieces once again.

To think that only a few weeks ago the media could not be more positive about Capello makes matters worse. His strict upbringing in Italy, another traditionally strong football nation, seemed to be just what the England team so desperately needed to reach the top of world football.

After a disastrous Euro 2008 campaign, with manager Steve McClaren, which saw England failing to qualify, they thought that a strong character and foreign influence like Capello at the helm of the English team would help change players’ mentality for the better. Unlike lenient McClaren, who as an Englishman was perhaps more star-struck by his players, Capello, a disciplinarian with strict rules on and off the pitch, would not allow misbehaving and would certainly not treat his players with kid gloves. Indeed, his stint as England manager up until the World Cup had been quite successful and he led the team to nine victories in ten qualifying games, losing only to the Ukraine, albeit only after qualification to the World Cup had been secured.

But as with many high-profile and high-pressure appointments, there were a few things that were ignored when Capello was appointed England manager. Despite his previous successes as manager in his native Italy and in Spain, Capello’s poor English language skills were brushed aside by the FA. His strict disciplinarian approach was also thought to be good for the team, however since English players are pampered throughout the year by their respective clubs, it was perhaps too hard a transition for players in the much-higher pressure environment of a World Cup. Indeed, only after England’s draw against Algeria did it become known that the team had apparently just drank their very first beer since the start of the tournament and that a few players had voiced their dissent against Capello’s tough-love approach.

Cultural, language and communication differences are well-known challenges faced in the business world, and football is no exception. Yet because football players and managers are sometimes perceived as ball-kicking athletes with no intellectual aspirations, their cultural and language differences go largely ignored.

The problem then is when football teams are immersed in high pressure on the world stage. All their differences are magnified and the façade starts to crack. How could an Italian manager ignore the fact that the British need to wind down sometimes with a beer and that they need directions in simple, plain English?

England is facing Slovenia in a must-win match later today, so the time has finally come to deliver results despite the many differences between manager and squad. Only time will tell whether Capello should have undertaken some sort of cultural awareness training course such as Communicaid’s Managing International Teams.

There is no doubt that Capello has done remarkably well and managed to gain a good level of English. Most people at Capello’s age are retired and so his performance and passion is all the more remarkable. Managing an international team, however, requires the Manager of England or indeed any business to harness the qualities of the team and culture(s) that it is made of. In the case of the English team, they have always been renowned for their passion, bulldog spirit and the desire to keep fighting to the end – often to lose on penalties!

Today we need to see that bulldog spirit once more. We don’t care if England lose today as long as they show that they care passionately and deliver a performance to make the fans back home and those that have travelled all the way to South Africa proud. Come on England!

© Communicaid Group Ltd.2010



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