Leading Russia into the World Cup finals as host nation – it’s the kind of honor that seems a perfect way for a garlanded coach like Fabio Capello to close a career. Not gonna happen, Fabio. In one of the least surprising managerial moves of the summer, the Russia head coach has been axed.
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time: the urbane, experienced, no-bullshit Capello would be a safe choice to shepherd Russia towards 2018. And he’s a collector of Russian art.
Turns out he was also a big collector of roubles, without the results to justify it. If last year’s exit at the 2014 World Cup’s group stage set alarm bells ringing, the team’s form in Euro 2016 qualifiers — eight points from six games — only upped the decibel levels. Overall, he won 17 of 33 matches.
So it’s lucky he wasn’t on some kind of performance-related pay deal. The Telegraph reports that he “earned around 20.4 million pounds for his three years in charge and is reported to have been handed a 10.5 million pounds compensation pay-out.” That’s $47 million for the same level of results you might expect from a head coach who’d been paid $470,000.
It’s not like his reputation was at its peak or he was in huge demand at the time of his hiring, either. He’d quit England four months before Euro 2012, his credibility forever damaged by the team’s grim performances at the 2010 World Cup and his authority undermined by in-fighting resulting from the FA’s decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy when he faced a racial abuse charge. Even three years ago, he looked like a worn-out dinosaur – a fading, overpriced autocrat with an outmoded defensive style of play that got him fired from Real Madrid straight after winning La Liga in 2007.
Yet it’s still notable that the Russian Football Union fired him, because it was debatable whether they could afford to. More than the team’s performances, it’s his wage packet that shocks at a time when the sport in the country is in crisis, and ordinary Russians are struggling in a tough economy.
Capello reportedly went unpaid for seven months until Alisher Usmanov, the part-owner of Arsenal, loaned the crisis-torn, rudderless RFU money. According to Yahoo!, the Russian Premier League’s average attendance this year fell to 10,151.
Maybe this is the end of a coaching career that’s spanned 28 years and also encompassed AC Milan, Roma and Juventus, turning the former Italy international into one of Europe’s best-known coaches. Or maybe he’ll resurface in China or the Middle East for a year or two, on the kind of contract that’ll allow him to add another Wassily Kandinsky to his collection. There’ll always be a club somewhere that wants to employ him, because he’s in that bracket of coaches who have the name recognition that allows them to get a job regardless of results. (Hey, Sven-Goran Eriksson, how’s it going in Shanghai?)
Capello’s failure and exit is a pretty standard-issue tale of the dangers of overpaying based on reputation, but given the grotesque salary in a country of oligarchs and opulence but also growing poverty and despair, it tells us something specific about how Russia is led. Or misled.