Fabio Capello launches his quest for redemption on Friday knowing only a convincing victory by a makeshift England team over Bulgaria can hush a growing band of critics clamouring for his dismissal.
After an extended honeymoon where Capello was lauded for presiding over an imperious World Cup qualifying campaign, a familiar storyline has unfolded in the wake of England’s calamitous showing in South Africa, which ended with a miserable 4-1 second round defeat to Germany.
Now, just months after being favorably compared to Sir Alf Ramsey, the architect of England’s 1966 World Cup triumph, Capello finds himself subject to the sort of ridicule dished out to less celebrated occupiers of the managerial hotseat known as international football’s “Impossible Job.”
One tabloid even branded him “Jackass” — above a picture of the Italian wearing a pair of super-imposed donkey ears — following his decision to drop Arsenal starlet Jack Wilshere back into England’s Under-21 squad.
On Wednesday, meanwhile, the Daily Mirror called for Capello to be fired next week, regardless of the outcome of England’s opening Euro 2012 Group G qualifiers against Bulgaria at Wembley on Friday and Switzerland in Basel next Tuesday.
“It is obvious that it is over for Capello,” the Mirror wrote. “Everybody knows he should be gone already. The FA knows it. The England fans know it. The players know it. And most of all, Capello knows it.”
In public however, Capello has brushed off the criticism with the confidence of a man who amassed five Serie A titles, two La Liga crowns and one European Cup during a glittering career in club management.
“I’ve read and heard a lot of different things but I am focused on my job,” Capello told journalists ahead of the Bulgaria match. “I’m a fighter. It’s my job, I fought for it. I am here because I enjoy my job.
“We must focus on the games we play against Bulgaria and Switzerland – and the future will be to play the finals because England is a very important country to play in the Euros.”
Capello has also dismissed suggestions that his faltering grasp of English has hindered his ability to communicate effectively with his players.
“I never had a problem with the players. When everything was okay I was a fantastic manager, I spoke fantastic English,” Capello said. “After we lose against Germany it’s bad.”
Against Bulgaria on Friday, Capello will be forced to field an untested starting line-up missing injured Chelsea mainstays John Terry (hamstring) and Frank Lampard (hernia) along with long-term casualty Rio Ferdinand.
Injuries have also robbed Capello of two attacking options after Peter Crouch (back) was forced to withdraw from the squad just days after Bobby Zamora suffered a thigh problem.
Capello acknowledged that a Bulgaria team able to call on the technical craft of England-based players Martin Petrov and Stilian Petrov will be more than capable of exploiting any possible gaps in his defence, and he was impressed by their display in a 1-0 friendly defeat against Russia last month.
“It will not be an easy game because they played good football and they played very well against Russia in that game,” Capello said. “They lost 1-0 but they played good football, because technically they are really good.”
Aston Villa skipper Stilian Petrov is determined to end his international career on a high — preferably at England’s expense.
The 31-year-old, who has vowed to retire from international football following the Euro 2012 campaign, is desperate to lead his side to the finals in Poland and Ukraine.
“England will be favourites to go through from our group but I’ve decided this will be my last international campaign and would love to lead Bulgaria to the finals,” he said. “I won’t be too popular at Wembley.
“England are in a period of change but it could go both ways. It could be good for us, it could be bad for us. We hope it will end good for us.”
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