Friday, February 10, 2012


A paisi unni chi vai, comu vidi fari fai.
- Sicilian proverb

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

When Fabio Capello was appointed manager of the England football team in 2007, he promised to learn to speak English within one month.  As I said then, such a feat is not possible and subsequent events have proved it.

If you want to learn to speak a foreign language fluently and correctly, some formal study is essential as well as spending time in the target language country .  Yes, it is true that you can pick up a "street" version of the language you wish to learn quite quickly but you will probably not be speaking in what linguists call "appropriate registers".  Appropriate registers, in languages like French, Italian and Spanish, are often demonstrated by which form of the pronoun "you" the speaker chooses to use and in most languages the way in which the speaker greets different people is important:  in my town, Cardiff, UK, I would often greet acquaintances or friends I saw on the bus with a colloquial "Hiya, love" but I would not have said "Hiya, love" to a client, my bank manager or my employer and certainly not to my Queen!  At other times, more complicated situations arise.

This, then, is one of the communication problems that Mr Capello might have faced during his time as England manager and we haven't even touched upon the vexed subject of grammar!  Of course, with interpreters and others available 24/7 to help him, Mr Capello was better placed than most to do without those English lessons but his lack of proficiency in the language cannot have helped when he found himself in an off-pitch situation which required patience, subtlety and diplomacy.

For readers who are not from the UK or Italy, I'll summarise what has happened:  The England team's captain, John Terry, had been accused, in November, of racist abuse of another player, Anton Ferdinand.  A court hearing was scheduled and everyone thought that the outcome would be known by April at the latest but early this month the hearing was adjourned until 9th July.  Because of this the Football Association, the sport's governing body in England, took the decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy and they informed Mr Capello of this decision last Thursday evening before making a public announcement.

Mr Capello was apparently upset that the FA had made this decision without consulting him and is reported to have said that his authority had been undermined.  Then, in an interview shown on Italian television on Sunday evening he stated - calmly and with some eloquence, I have to say - that as John Terry has not yet been proven guilty in a court of law, he should have been allowed  to remain as captain.

The FA board were, naturally, in turn upset that Mr Capello had spoken on Italian television without consulting them and, at a meeting held yesterday, Mr Capello resigned, with no rancour having been displayed on either side, we are told.

So there we have it:  both parties feel that the other has "gone above their head" and both feel aggrieved.  As the FA states on its website that,

"We are committed to making football accessible to everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, background or ability"

it is hard to know what else its board could have done, given the seriousness of the allegations. Yet, as Mr Capello pointed out in his Rai interview, the allegations are exactly that at the moment. 

Now, as many of you will know, I am not in the least interested in football.  What I am interested in, however,  are the ways in which the matter is being reported in the UK and in Italy:  In the British press the fact that Mr Capello learned little English is being emphasised and the feeling is that his employers, who were paying him a cool £6 million a year, could have justifiably hoped for more linguistic enthusiasm.   And at least one British newspaper has alluded to the fact that Mr Capello "seemed to be on holiday a lot", thus echoing a culture clash between Northern and Southern Europe that we have sometimes seen during the euro crisis.

In Italy, on the other hand, most of the coverage has focused on the fact that a man who has not yet been tried has, nevertheless, been punished and that this could have happened without consultation with his line manager.  Most people I have spoken to here have also expressed incredulity regarding this "sentence without a trial."

Mr Capello looks tired to me and I am sure that he is glad to be home, having taken the first possible flight out of London. But I can't help feeling that, had he learned more English and consequently been able to absorb more British culture, he would have gained a better understanding of how the FA, and Britain itself, work.  His stay in my native land might also have been a happier one.


Unknown said...

I heard a bit about the squabble on BBC America; thanks for giving me more information.

I've begun our birthday countdown!

Whispering Walls said...

His English was VERY bad!

jams o donnell said...

To hell with football. The so called beautiful game is decidedly ugly these days

LindyLouMac said...

Well put Pat.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Nick. Ah yes, we Valentine babies must stick together! So I gather, WW. Hi, jams. Such a pity. Thanks, LindyLouMac.

Jenny Woolf said...

As someone who is not good at languages, I sympathise with him, because it's really, really hard to learn a language well enough to be fluent - well, I suppose it is anyhow because i have never succeeded in doing it despite lots of study and visiting the country. On the other hand, sometimes it just has to be done if you're being paid enough.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, -Jenny. It takes a lot of hard work but as you say, money comes into it. At that salary, I think he might have made an effort!

Gledwood said...

What really gets me is that the Brits, several hundred thousand of whom live in Spain without speaking more than a few words of Spanish, dare criticize anyone for not speaking their language fluently!

Then again it is ENGLISH we're speaking and really nobody can call themself a citizen of the modern world without speaking at least half-decent English. I'm sure Cappello or whatever his name is (because I don't give a flying sloppy one about football either) has put in a more than satisfactory effort and can communicate far better than most Englishmen would in Italian in an equivalent situation.

Ridiculous ridiculous ridiculous!

WOOF to Simi, by the way ;-)

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Good points, Gleds. xx woof!

Unknown said...

We have a similar situation in Ireland with Mr Trappatoni, who is still bumbling through press conferences in comedy English and rarely venturing away from his Italian home. Hopefully won't end in tears as well..
I am looking forward to visiting Sicily from my new home in Malta, only a short ferry-ride away, so no excuses.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hello, David and welcome. I didn't realise you had a similar problem with Mr T. Oh, yes, you must visit Sicily!

RNSANE said...

He was pretty grandiose to set such an outrageous time limit on acquiring the English language in so short a time. I'm not overly interested in football...yours or ours, though I do root for my home teams. Though I am 67 and both of my sons played, the rules are all Greek to me!!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Carmen. Yes, it was a ridiculous statement that he made about learning English in the first place. I don't understand football either - but then, I don't understand any sport!


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