Fabio Capello has reflected on his journey as England manager at the 2010 World Cup a decade ago.
England were knocked out by Germany in the Round of 16, a result that left the nation bitter after the officials failed to award a goal for Frank Lampard despite the ball clearly crossing the line.
Capello left his post as England manager two years later, bringing an end to five years in the job – that will mainly be remembered for that fateful day.
In an interview with The Guardian, Capello admitted that the incident is still “the most incredible thing that’s happened to me.”
He explained: “Everyone saw it. Besides, because of the effect on the ball, when it hits the bar, the floor – the pitch was dry – and goes up like that, it can only have gone in: it’s physics.”
“There had been a conference in Salt Lake City in February: an hour about the ball, 45 minutes about referees. The preparation was perfect, they said. This, that, the other. And I said to the referees’ chief: ‘Why not put someone behind the goal, a fifth official?’ ‘No, we’ve decided this way‘…
“Look! I said this would happen. We worked for two years and because of someone else’s mistake, we’re going home. Because you didn’t put someone there. What’s he sitting in the stands for? Put him behind the goal. It was there! I told them that in February.”
Capello maintains that he is still haunted by the decision not to award Lampard’s ‘ghost goal’, because England would have had the upper hand psychologically at that moment.
“Germany was a young team, very young. Listen: a young team that goes from 2-0 to 2-2 has a psychological problem. For us, that’s a tremendous boost.
“But that wasn’t to be and I can’t get it out of my mind. It’s still there, still there. I would have liked to see the second half then. We hit the bar, had chances, and on the break they score the third, then a fourth. I could see it: we were growing, getting better, and then …”
Capello admitted that his England squad were not fully equipped for success anyway, due to injuries to three key players.
“Rooney had problems, he wasn’t right. Beckham got injured, Ferdinand got injured: important players, with charisma, leadership, players you need. We got there and played without conviction.”
Questioned on the eternal debate of why Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard could not play in the same England team together, Capello explained: “Because they played in the same place.”
However, he could not leave one of them out “because the other players aren’t better.”
Capello insists England prepared for the World Cup in the right way, but denied that players should have seen it as a ‘sacrifice‘ after a demanding club season.
“When we played, I didn’t see the same comfort. We played a pre-tournament friendly and I could already see something was missing. Afterward people said things like we were based too far away [from everything], the players were holed up and didn’t like it, it was too long, too hard. That’s nonsense, stupid. The preparation was perfect.
“Look, in my life, I played one World Cup: the greatest thing. I used to wait in anticipation for the squad announcement. I didn’t go to Argentina 78 having played throughout qualification. Now, that hurt. Being at a World Cup is a sacrifice? Twenty days is a sacrifice? What about the people they’re working for the team, up at five every morning? That’s sacrifice. It’s not a sacrifice to play.
“People said: ‘They’re not used to it.’ Not used to it! You’re there to work. You have the whole of England behind you. And four years later they were in the centre of Rio and were sent home early too… so…
“The England shirt weighs heavy. So much time has passed without winning. ’66 is a problem because whenever a World Cup or Euros starts, they think they can do it again. Always, always, always. It’s important to play without that weight, with more freedom. A lot is psychology but, honestly, I think the problem England have is they arrive at tournaments tired.
“In September, October, November, we had no problem playing the world’s best teams. In March, April, so-so. In June, problems. That’s why I think it is physical. You play a lot of [club] games and your culture is: fight, fight, fight, never stop, even if you’re four down. I liked that.”
Comparing his England team to the present one, which reached the semi-finals at the last World Cup, Capello notices the difference between the ages of the two squads.
He also aimed a subtle dig at his goalkeeping situation, with Rob Green dropped for David James during the 2010 World Cup – and Capello even referred to the latter by his ‘Calamity James’ nickname.
“My team was a bit old. We didn’t have young players and in the past there was tiredness. Now they have good young players.
“Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling are important. There’s quality, speed, everything. If I have a doubt now, it’s the centre-backs but England have lads who are younger, fresher.
“You also need confidence and England have that now. Now they have a goalkeeper …
“No, I didn’t [have a goalkeeper]. I’ve always had bad luck with goalkeepers internationally. The goalkeeper is very, very important, as much as a striker. Anyone who wants to win a title has to have a goalkeeper.
“You can’t say anything. Everyone makes mistakes. [Green] made one, so I changed. I put in Calamity James.”
“I had Green and I had [Joe] Hart, just a kid. I asked the players. Hart or Calamity? ‘Calamity.’ I put Calamity in because of the players’ trust. John Terry and the defenders had more faith in James. Hart had played only once.”
Italian Capello also denied that communication was a problem when in charge of England – although he admitted that it has caused issues elsewhere in his career.
“People said the players didn’t understand my English but it’s football: 20 words [are enough].
“It was [a problem] in Russia and China, but not England.”
One major difficulty Capello did find in getting his message across was in changing the players’ diets in order to reduce their weights.
“You explain, tell them what to do. They’re professionals. The problem is, they arrive at the end of the season. ‘We’re used to eating this, used to doing this, not used to that.’ It’s hard to change – especially if you don’t have leaders [among players] to guide them.
“It’s not discipline. It’s respect for the shirt: you represent a country. You’re not there for fun; you’re there to work, for the game, for the English spirit. At a club, you might need [a warmer, closer relationship] but not a national team. There’s the maximum respect. We’re focused on the target and that’s it.
“All that stuff is nonsense, always has been.”