When England's game against Holland was cancelled due to the stretched resources of the Police, I genuinely couldn't give a monkeys. For a long time now, around the same amount of time that Fabio Capello has been in the employ of the FA, I have been an Englishman without an international football team to follow. I haven't chosen to walk away and it isn't some kind of petulant tantrum thrown because the massive level of humiliation every England team leaves an international tournament with is matched only by the massive level of ill-justified arrogance they enter it with. I am a Sunderland fan – I can't afford to be a bad loser. I just no longer see a national team and set-up which I feel represents me and my passion for football.
Capello is, in my mind, a massive part of that. He is a man who seems intent on perpetuating the damaging monopoly the more fashionable clubs have on winning honours in this country, and last week was happy to openly abuse his influence to do it – and in the process continue his penchant for showing nothing but disrespect for Sunderland AFC.
For those who haven't seen it, in an exclusive interview on the FA's official website, Capello spoke of his delight that so many of England's younger, more fringe, players had moved to the country's bigger clubs of late. He said "We are very lucky that the top teams in England have bought young [English] players. It's different to when you play with a middle of the table team to when you play at the top because they have to fight to win titles".
On the face of it, that seems reasonable. But when viewed against a contextual backdrop of his previous clear attempts to show disdain for the 'middle of the table teams' it becomes little more than just the latest in a long line of slaps in the face. For now, however, lets examine the merits of his claims in isolation from that context. Does immersing yourself in the environment of a successful club automatically produce a quality, mentally tough footballer? No. Obviously it is one route, but it certainly isn't the only one. There is still plenty of room for players to learn their trade playing weekly Premier League football at less glamorous clubs, equipping themselves with mastery of the basics of their craft before earning the chance to polish their game at the highest level. Every young player in the country should feel free to tailor his own career path according to his own needs and free from external pressures. Frank Lampard's four years at West Ham prior to him maturing as a top class player at Chelsea didn't seem to do him any harm. Ashley Young is another who has taken a similar route to the top. Leighton Baines has flourished into a full back of genuine class without ever kicking a ball in the Champions League. It is a well-trodden path and there is no reason to suddenly turn our noses up at it now other than snobbery.
But turning his nose up at it is exactly what Capello does do, and the worst thing about it is that he dismisses clubs like Sunderland from a self-imposed position of total ignorance. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato once postulated in The Laches that second hand opinion, even a correct one, can never equate to knowledge. Yet second hand opinion is all that Capello can possibly possess regarding Sunderland AFC. During his three year stint as England manager, Capello has visited the Stadium Of Light once, yet just a fortnight after Darren Bent's switch to Aston Villa, the Italian told us that during those two weeks Darren Bent had suddenly become a better player because of his association with Villa before telling us "I have been twice to see him at Aston Villa". When Jordan Henderson was given a surprise England debut last season upon the recommendation of Franco Baldini, Capello displayed his ignorance by using Henderson in a holding midfield role. Bent and Henderson played for lowly Sunderland, and so were not deemed worthy of Fabio Capello's exalted time and attention. After all, why actually do the work you are paid millions for when instead you can be given the VIP treatment on your expense account at some of the most prestigious clubs in Europe?
But the blatant neglect Capello shows to the task of properly monitoring and assessing the talent pool at his disposal isn't just an irritant. There are very real and worrying implications for Sunderland AFC and its future. Right now, the club has two players representing England in the Under-20s World Cup in Colombia – Billy Knott and Blair Adams. It would have been four had injury not ruled out Ryan Noble and the club hadn't denied Louis Laing, a player Bruce has described as 'an outstanding young player', permission to participate. There is also every chance of Jack Colback starting the season in the starting line-up at Anfield on Saturday. There is little question that the club's academy is starting to produce some English players of genuine promise, and Connor Wickham shouldn't be forgotten in all this either. These players will be growing up harbouring dreams of playing at World Cups for their country yet are now being told that the badge on the front of their club blazers is more relevant to their hopes of achieving those dreams than working hard, playing football, learning their trade, and producing. Meanwhile, the club who identifies and develops the talent is reduced to the role of hindrance. Do we really want the talent we have nurtured to instantly become contaminated with such ideology the second they get in the first team?
What on earth gives Capello – a man with no lasting interest in the future of English football given he is due to walk away from it forever in a year's time – the right to abuse his influence to largely mock the Premier League in such a way? We all know that Sunderland are not going to be competing for any titles any time soon, but we are a Premier League club and very proud to be here. I am sure that if you asked fans of Bolton, Fulham, Stoke, Blackburn, Wolves, Newcastle or any of the other clubs that Capello has dismissed based upon who or where they are rather than what they do will say the exact same. What we certainly are not is a bunch of mugs churning out pub league level football as Capello would happily have you believe to justify his refusal to actually get out of the Old Trafford or Emirites directors boxes and do his job properly.
For me, the day we finally get shot of Capello can't come quick enough. He has become a dangerous parasite on our national game, sinking his poison deep into the hearts of its clubs, its fans, and its ideologies whilst sucking out ludicrous sums of money. But more than anything else, I am sick of him repeatedly slapping my club in its face and attempting to abuse his influence to shape its perception - and all for no other reason than it doesn't fit the profile required to fuel his ego and vanity.
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