In hindsight, we should have seen this coming. Fabio Capello was lured to England by a huge pay day, and Russia’s not scared to commit big money to a name coach (see Guus Hiddink). The fit’s too good, particularly since Russia may still have enough talent to make Brazil.
On Monday, the Russian Football Union announced the imminent signing of the former Milan, Real Madrid, Roma, and Juventus head coach. He takes over a team which, after a disappointing end to Euro 2012, must navigate a World Cup qualifying group that includes Portugal, Israel, Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.
Though Russia’s confirming the hire, the contract still has to be worked out. Capello has only agreed to take the job. Ink has yet to hit paper.
“I am happy,” Capello told the news agency ANSA. “[I]f contract negotiations go well as I believe they will, it will be a wonderful adventure, as Russia is a great country.”
A great country that provides him an avenue to another World Cup, and as UEFA groups go, Russia’s is on the easy side (particularly considering Portugal has had trouble winning its recent qualifying groups). The bigger challenges for Capello will be culture and roster. In England, he either didn’t try that hard to absorbs his players’ culture (including language) or he maintained an act for the press. In Russia, assimilation will also be an issue, particularly given a roster of players transitioning from their prime into the latter stages of their careers – players who are almost entirely based in (and have never left) the Russian leagues.
The only starter from Euro 2012 who will be under 30 by Brazil 2014 is Alan Dzagoev. Some egos may need to be coaxed as roles are redefined. Can Capello do that? And if not, is he the right person to identify and implement a whole new leadership structure?
Capello’s new players are the remnants of a golden generation in Russia, one that’s lost its luster. Brazil represents a final chance to convert on their promise, with the memories of Euro 2008 tarnished by 2012’s failure. If Capello seems a swing for the fences, it’s because the RFU needs a home run.