I was sitting right behind Fabio Capello at the Chelsea-Manchester United match yesterday. He never mentioned that he had just dropped a bombshell on Italian TV about the big question that would have kept Shakespeare awake at night were he still alive – ‘JT or not JT.’
In fact beyond a fairly perfunctory hello, when he had that ‘I’m sure I have met him but I can’t remember when’ look on his face (one I have perfected myself over the years), we didn’t have much by way of conversation. He did turn around a few times, laughing at my Chelsea-supporting neighbour Joe Hemani’s vituperative and hilarious assaults on referee Howard Webb, and he did also – twice – offer his advice that he thought Wayne Rooney would miss the penalty he was about to take. Though a Scotland fan, I felt this was not exactly what an England manager should be saying about his star player, but as we now know, he is not averse to saying what he thinks even if it is not what he is meant to say he thinks.
The ‘overseas interview’ is a well-known source of big stories in the UK media. Have you noticed how often stories about French players’ discontent with their English club kicks off in L’Equipe or on Canal Plus, or how often an Italian’s disgruntlement reaches daylight in La Gazetto dello Sport?
So maybe Fabio thought his interview, in which he said John Terry should still be England captain, would not go beyond Ventimiglia on the Franco-Italian border. If so, he is naive and/or daft, which I doubt. Or he wanted his FA paymasters to know what he thought, and to know he wasn’t scared of saying it.
At one point yesterday, FA General Secretary Alex Horne came over for a whispered little chat with Capello. With the benefit of hindsight, and the knowledge of the story about which I learned later, I should have spotted the slight tension in the air. But at the time I was laughing at Joe Hemani screaming at Webb that he should just go the whole hog and wear a red shirt.
A few seats away sat David Davies, a Manchester United fan, a veteran of the FA and a reminder that this is a body that has always had its fair share of public relations problems amid the millions of words that get written about football every day.
David must be glad to be out of it, just as I am glad not to be Number 10 director of comms at a time Andrew Lansley is driving a Health and Social Care Bill into a multiple car crash, and Justine Greening is facing both ways on bonuses so as to keep in step with Dave and George.
But enough of politics. There will be plenty of that when I go on Question Time on Thursday I hope. Back to football, though via a thought from the way we tried to run Number 10 back in the days.
It may have escaped your notice, but there were times when the people at the top of the organisation didn’t get on too well, and didn’t agree about everything. But as I think my diaries show, we tried to thrash out these differences in private so that even if there were noises off, when it came to public statements, the Big Beasts were broadly in the same place.
I did wonder, when I saw FA chairman David Bernstein announce that Terry was being stripped of the captaincy on Friday, whether all the bases had been covered. It was the nature of the announcement that prompted my doubt. It was an FA video, and I hope Mr Bernstein won’t take it amiss if I say it brought to mind the tapes that Osama bin Laden used to throw out of his cave, where a waiting messenger would ship them to Al-Jazeera.
It suggested all a bit of a rush, and if it is true – here I have only the papers to go on, not my intimate observations of Fabio Capello’s body language – that the England manager was not told in advance, that really does suggest some very obvious small p-political and news management basics were not covered.
It all means, yet again, that as England prepare for a major tournament, relationships are strained and the focus is not where it ought to be.
Meanwhile, congratulations to Manchester United for their comeback. Alex Ferguson was buzzing after the match, and clearly feels that the combination of Manchester City’s defeat at Everton, and the stealing back of a point yesterday, mean the Premier League is tilting towards United.
As a manager, he went to bed thinking football, football, football. Poor old Fabio, not least thanks to his own words in Italy, went to bed thinking oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, another fine mess for the FA.