New Times,
New Thinking.

19 April 2011updated 17 Jan 2012 6:01am

Why is Berlusconi’s spokesman managing my football team?

Fabio, your country needs you. And mine, frankly, doesn’t.

By Dan Hodges

Why hasn’t the FA sacked Fabio Capello? I don’t mean for his team’s poor performances on the pitch, his staggeringly inept man management, or even his apparent reluctance to watch Englishmen playing football (the last of which you could be forgiven for thinking represents quite an important element of his job description).

No, I’m talking about his comments on immigration and his public statement of support for Silvio Berlusconi. According to the England capo, “In Italy we have a problem with immigration. Twenty-eight thousand Africans . . . it’s too much.” And just for good measure, he tossed in: “I voted Berlusconi before and I’ll vote Berlusconi again.”

On one level, I suppose we should be thankful that England has a football manager who’s politically engaged and retains a capacity in his interviews to range beyond the merits of a sweeper versus a flat back four. But on another, I’m not so sure I want an employee of my national football association, never mind the figurehead of my national team, acting as unofficial spokesman for the Running Board Revolution.

Apparently, the FA justified Capello’s comments on immigration by claiming that they weren’t about immigrants at all, but “refugees”, which is interesting on two levels.

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First, it indicates that the Football Association has its own immigration policy, with its own classification of migrant. That’s quite unusual for a sports governing body. Unique, in fact. Perhaps we can look forward to Sir Trevor Brooking giving his views on the immigration cap? “It’s like my header against Arsenal in 1980. Got to get down low.”

Second, given that the official FA spokesman felt it was their job to clarify Capello’s comments, it must follow that the interview was conducted in some sort of official capacity. Doesn’t that present a few problems?

What about his other comments about Berlusconi? Can we expect clarification and interpretation from the FA on those as well? If Capello puts out additional statements in support of the Italian president should we expect to see the FA circulating them? Spinning them?

Race for the ball

Public individuals obviously have a right to private political views. But they can’t articulate them in a way that reflects on their employer.

Just ask Glenn Hoddle. He was sacked from the FA after giving his views on disability. They were insensitive and offensive. But the fact they were only his personal views didn’t matter. He was out.

It could be argued that Capello’s views on immigration are also insensitive and offensive. Also, that they have a more direct bearing on his position. I’m not sure what Rio Ferdinand, Joleon Lescott, Aaron Lennon, Ashley Young, Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe and Danny Welbeck think of their manager’s statement about “African” migrants.

I’d also be interested to know how helpful Capello’s comments have been to the FA’s “Let’s Kick Racism Out” anti-bigotry campaign. Obviously, expressing concern about immigration doesn’t itself constitute racism. But it’s difficult to see how the England manager’s views will assist with the campaign’s efforts to “bring together footballing organisations with communities to work in partnership on problems of exclusion and discrimination”.

Given English football’s commitment to silencing the monkey chants and confiscating the bananas, it needs interventions like this like it needs a Rooney volley to the head. In fact, if a football fan were to be caught at a match chanting sentiments similar to those Capello articulated in his interview, they’d be liable for ejection or arrest.

But I expect Capello isn’t especially attuned to the sensitivities surrounding football and race.

Racism in Italian football, where Capello spent most of his time playing and managing, is endemic. Two years ago, fans of his former club Juventus taunted the black Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli so viciously that even the notoriously myopic Italian football authorities were forced to impose a fine and sanction of a match played behind closed doors.

Anti-racism campaigners wrote to all the major clubs calling for action, and received positive responses from just three.

Order, order!

Capello also has a bit of form when it comes to unconventional political views. Returning from a spell as manager of Real Madrid, he spoke wistfully of “a sparkling atmosphere, the air of a country in Europe making the greatest progress. When I returned to Italy it seemed I had taken two steps back. Spain in two words? Latin warmth and creativity regulated by a rigorous order. The order which comes from Franco.”

When it was pointed out the good Generalissimo was a fascist dictator with the blood over half a million of his fellow countrymen on his hands, Capello replied, “But he left a legacy of order.”

Fabio Capello isn’t a racist, but he is certainly a liability. Since the World Cup it’s been clear to everyone he’s just going through the motions, and as his non-appearance at Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final demonstrates, he is becoming increasingly reluctant to do even that.

If he was good at his job his political “eccentricities” might be tolerable. But he’s not, and neither are they. If he wants to be out on the stump with his good friend Silvio we shouldn’t let a trifling issue like European Championship qualification get in the way.

Fabio, your country needs you. And mine, frankly, doesn’t.

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