Fabio Capello is not a well regarded manager in England. He’s not well regarded because of the 2010 World Cup catastrophe, and the shocking stint with Russia. But, what about being one of only three managers to win Real Madrid La Liga in the last 10 years? What about having a 69.74% winning ratio at Juventus, and only losing five in 76 games?
Yeah, that’s impressive, but not the Italian’s greatest feat. That would be winning Serie A with AC Milan, and in the process scoring 36 goals. 36. At the time, they were outscored by 10 teams of 18. And how he masterminded the title victory, turned Serie A on its head by the Italian FA changing the points system. Yes, it was that impressive.
If we go back to the 1993/94 where AC Milan were under the grip of Silvio Berlusconi, it proved to be effective for the Italian giants. Following the sacking of Arrigo Sacchi, it was Capello the man Berlusconi turned to. Already relatively familiar with the Italian side, having taken temporary charge previously a few seasons before, and also managing the AC Milan juniors. Some say his comments on this job inspired Jose Mourinho’s infamous words on feeding the horses….
“They’re little plants. You water them every day and they grow.”
It’s been suggested Berlusconi gave the job to Capello due to becoming disjointed with former shoe salesman, Sacchi, and was said to be impressed by Capello’s iron fist when taking temporary charge of Milan. For instance, the Italian subbed on Giuseppe Galderisi at half-time of a game, only to take him off 14 minutes later. Ruthless.
This sort of no nonsense approach sat well with the AC Milan owner. This sort of hard-nosed approach was exactly what saw Milan win the league in the 1993/94 season, where they won the league by conceding just 15 goals. Grinding out results, winning ugly; all these sorts of expressions were created after this season. AC won by a scoreline of 1-0 nine times that season; The Capello Way.
How did he do it? The Italian was lucky that he already had a solid rapport with the foundations of the defense. For example, he’s managed Paolo Maldini at youth level for AC, and he used to play with Franco Baresi. The communication was clear, the methods were second nature.
Sure the approach was effective. However, how much the players enjoyed playing under Capello is up for debate. Former Ballon d’Or winner, and record AC Milan signing, Jean-Pierre Papin, just about sums up the period under Capello. There seemed only one way of success; discipline and a rigidness which didn’t allow for any complacency.
“If Capello’s system looks boring from the stands; it’s even worse to play in.”
Much credit must be given to Sacchi. The manager reportedly used to install defensive importance to the extent where Frank Rijkaard would fall asleep during team meetings. Still, the selling of Rijkaard to Ajax was an issue for Capello during the 93/94 season, and a further problem was created when Ruud Gullit was loaned out. Alongside this, Marco van Basten’s growing injury concerns – summed up perfectly when a fan offered to give his own cartilage to the Dutchman – only amplified attacking options; there was a clear need to channel all tactics towards a pragmatic and defensive approach; Capello duly obliged.
The recruitment of Marcel Desailly was the perfect answer to this. A ball winning player, a natural defender, but intelligently converted to a midfielder to guard Capello’s back four.
“He wasn’t given any specific marking duties, his job was simply to win the ball whenever it was nearby.”
This tenacity was made even more effective across Europe. Milan won the Champions League that season, defeating Barcelona 4-0 in the final. To keep ANOTHER clean sheet against the likes of Johan Cruyff and co. in the final, just went to show the brilliance of this AC Milan team. Compact, organised; a fear from the players which was created by Capello.
“When he was standing on the sidelines watching us train, you could feel his stare. He put you under pressure.”
The players were constantly playing for their shirts, never safe from being dropped. It was this hard ironed Italian approach which delivered this highly successful season, purely built on defensive foundations.
It’s a shame how such achievements are forgotten, but then again a lot of the mangers from the 90s are. Look at Louis van Gaal, Kenny Daglish, or even Graeme Souness; all hugely successful managers back then, but often forgotten about now. Yet, none of the men trumped what Capello did in that season, and no one ever will repeat such an astonishing feat.
Let’s remember Capello for this, not for his England and Russia tenure.