The start of the Euro 2012 campaign also means the re-igniting of the endless inquests on Fabio Capello, the England manager. Despite his start to the campaign suggesting a similarly easy passage for England to the finals in Poland and Ukraine as with the 2010 World Cup, the eventual disaster in South Africa makes such inquests inevitable.

However, are we missing the point in the way we discus Capello, concentrating on his choice of players and tactics? Can he play both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the same team, is the right formation 4-4-2, or 4-2-3-1?

Is not the real problem with the Italian the fact that he cannot have a laugh and joke with his players, his lack of English clearly not being a help in this regard? The result was seen in South Africa where English players did not have a smile on their faces and which may have explained their failure to perform.

This may be a surprising, if not absurd, thing to say about a manager who has had such club success. Yet this is just the point being made by many an English manager, none more articulately than Neil Warnock of QPR.

Now Warnock is the most controversial of our managers. His fights with players, other managers and referees have led to many problems, so much so that his remarks to referee Graham Poll after the Sheffield United-Arsenal Cup semi-final in 2003 got him an FA fine. At first sight the feisty Yorkshireman may seem a very unlikely guru to lecture on the qualities required in an English national team manager.

Warnock did say during the nightmare that was South Africa that he would love to manage England. He now tells me that was a tongue in cheek remark. And while he may not be a Premiership manager, QPR’s start to the season suggests he may become one before by the end of it. So it is worth considering the points he makes as he seeks to dissect what went wrong with Capello in the World Cup and about a foreigner managing the national team.

His argument, as he explained to me, is as follows: “No disrespect to Fabio, but I think managing England compared with managing a club in Italy or wherever is very different. He may have success everywhere and he’s a top coach but, when you’ve got the top English players away for four or five weeks, humour has got to come into it. I think it’s a must that you speak the language of the players during a big competition like the World Cup. We’ve had that with Sven and now we’ve got it with Fabio.”

Warnock says he noticed this in England’s first game against USA in the World Cup,. “I said look at them, they are not smiling, there’s no happiness anywhere on the pitch. But that is important. If you’re happy in your job, you perform better.”

Elementary, my dear Watson, but Warnock’s point about humour is part of a larger point that a manager’s job is really not coaching or tactics, although they play a part, but man management. “What was wrong with England was failure of man management, failure to get the best out of the players.”

Now Warnock, it must be said, is a maverick. “Before the match,” he says, “we have prepared the players tactically, who they’re marking at free kicks, in corners, so they know all that. So, just before they go out, it is not a question of a detailed lecture. I just remind them what I expect, the dangers and where we can exploit opposition weaknesses and about passion they need to bring to their game.”

All good English stuff. So not surprising that, when Warnock goes to the dugout and sees rival managers with pen and paper in their hands busy scribbling away, he does wonder what the game is coming to, “When I see modern managers writing things down on the touchline, I keep thinking they must be doing a crossword puzzle or they must writing a letter, let’s not forget to get the milk tomorrow or something. I don’t understand what they are writing. I don’t do anything. No, I do it up here, in my head.”

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And it is this “up here” thing he feels a foreign manager like Capello misses out and that it led to his mistakes in preparing for the World Cup. “The problem with Fabio is that there is a big difference in preparing for the qualifying campaign for the World Cup or the Euros and preparing the team for the finals. In the qualifying campaign you’re away for four days and you have one game. It’s entirely different to going away for five weeks for the finals of a major tournament. You get people like Rooney and these other lads, and you tell them to go to their rooms in the afternoon. They’ve not got enough up here. I don’t mean brain, but they’ve not got enough working up here to keep them occupied. You can’t just go on a computer and do things to keep yourself amused. You’ve got to keep the players occupied and you’ve got to have humour to do that.”

This humour failure was compounded, feels Warnock, by Capello sticking to too rigid a formula. So he took the England team to Austria for training before the World Cup. “A massive mistake taking them to Austria for two weeks instead of letting them have a holiday with their families. The players had just had ten months in the hardest league in the world and they needed a rest. It is no surprise they were a disaster.”

But is Warnock’s argument not demolished by the failure of English managers to get the best out of the national team, the last of them being the man who preceded Capello, Steve McClaren?

Warnock rebuts this and points to the trio of British managers doing well in the Premiership, Alex Ferguson, Harry Redknapp, the man Warnock feels will take over from Capello should he slip during the Euro 2012 campaign, and Roy Hodgson.

“They are all different but their strengths are man management. Not on the coaching. The English players respond to man managers. Managing a football team isn’t rocket science like a lot of people think it is. It’s about getting the best out of what you’ve got, making players feel that they are the top, even if it’s for 90 minutes.”

Warnock, himself, follows this principle at QPR. “I mean at QPR I tell my first team coach Keith Curle everyday what I want him to do and he does his sessions, defensive, attacking, or what have you. But I am not involved in day to day coaching.”

A national team manager has even less chance of day to day management so man management becomes all the more important.

Sir Alf Ramsey demonstrated this brilliantly back in 1966. He took a team of which not much was expected and which began less than brilliantly but went on to beat more fancied teams to the World Cup title, a superb case of getting the best from your players. And, as the 1966 heroes keep reminding us, Ramsey got his players laughing which helped them to perform as a winning team.

Ironically, Capello, during his great run to get England to South Africa, was compared to Ramsey. In South Africa he proved that he was no better, probably a bit worse, than other managers like Sven Goran Ericksson. Ericksson did after all get England to their big tournament default position: quarter-final, then out.

But, however easily England qualify for 2012, Capello will remain on trial until he shows that he can shift gear from fine club manager to the very different world of national team management. And for that, as Warnock says, humour and ability to communicate with players may be crucial. As he showed with his lack of communication skills over David Beckham’s retirement, Capello has a lot to learn.

So, while we debate his squad selections and formations, Capello had better acquire some finesse and humour in communicating with his players. A lot may depend on that.


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