Sport

GREATS’ EXPECTATIONS

Bellingham-inspired England can win Euro 2024, says former coach Fabio Capello

Bellingham-inspired England can win Euro 2024, says former coach Fabio Capello
Ruud Gullit listens attentively to Fabio Capello at the Laureus World Sports Awards at the Palacio de Cibeles in Madrid. (Photo: Borja B Hojas / Getty Images for Laureus)

The general consensus from a panel of five European footballing greats is that France and England are favourites to win this year’s European Championships in Germany.

Fabio Capello might have come across as a dour, tetchy man in his time with England, but in the more relaxed environment of the 2024 Laureus World Sports Awards in Madrid, he was positively bubbly as he discussed football.

Whatever else people make of Capello, who won LaLiga with Real Madrid and Serie A titles with AC Milan, he simply loves football. He adores talking about it – and he waxes lyrical in Spanish, English and Italian.

As part of a panel to discuss the upcoming European Championships in Germany, Capello was joined by Ruud Gullit, Alessandro del Piero, Marcel Desailly and Raul. Great players all.

But there was a natural deferment to Capello when they took their seats – the respected coach was sat in the middle as if by right. The others happily flanked the brooding coach.  

And while everyone had their say on a wide range of topics from Euro 2024 and the best players and team in the world, to Real Madrid and wunderkind Jude Bellingham, it was Capello to whom the others looked to lead most topics.

The general consensus from a panel of five European footballing greats is that France and England are favourites to win this year’s European Championships in Germany. No real surprises there.

Jude Bellingham Fbio Capello

Jude Bellingham, at only 20, is soccer’s new superstar. Fabio Capello believes he can inspire England to Euro 2024 glory. (Photo: Carlos Alvarez / Getty Images for Laureus)

“France are in a really good position to win it (Euro 2024). We have seen this generation of players’ ability, and their collective and individual skills, so France is strong,” Desailly said.

Capello, who coached England at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, believes the three Lions have the firepower to go one better than their runner-up place at Euro 2020, but that they have some issues to overcome.

He spoke with regret that his team, who suffered a round-of-16 World Cup exit to Germany in South Africa in 2010, were so poor at that tournament after being one of the leading teams in the world going into it.

By the time they arrived in South Africa, the players were tired and then lost confidence. But Capello believes England can win Euro 2024.

“I like England,” Capello said with no hesitation. “In the midfield and up front they are the best. Look at those strikers – (Harry) Kane, (Jude) Bellingham, (Bukayo) Saka.

“Right and left defenders is good, but I have some doubts about the centre-backs and the goalkeeper. It’s not the same level as the other part of the team.

“Sometimes, the goalkeeper (Jordan Pickford) is really, really good, but I saw the game that they lost against Italy, the (Euro 2020) final at Wembley.

“After 20 minutes he started to shoot long ball. Is this fear? For the defenders when you have a really good goalkeeper it is another thing.

“I liked the last game they played (against Belgium) – fight, pressing.

“The problem is when they arrive at the moment to win they play with fear sometimes.”

France and England both possess great individuals as well. Kylian Mbappe is a World Cup-winner and will lead France’s line in Germany this June.

Hey Jude

But the player who has the world talking is England playmaker Bellingham. The 20-year-old scored the winner for Real Madrid in a 3-2 victory over Barcelona at the Bernabeu on Sunday night.

Less than 24 hours after his El Clasico heroics the man from Birmingham won the Breakthrough of the Year at the 2024 Laureus World Sport Awards, staged at the Palacio de Cibeles in his adopted hometown.

His swagger, style, intelligence and skill, which has yielded 21 goals in LaLiga this season, will make him the perfect man for England to build their Euro 24 campaign around.

Bellingham might be young, but he is already a leader in the Madrid dressing room thanks to his performances and his strong personality.

Raul, himself a legend at Los Blancos, was impressed from the first moment Bellingham was unveiled as a Madrid player last year.

“I felt he spoke that day as a mature player already. As a veteran already,” Raul said on the Laureus Awards panel. “It was as if he had been at Real Madrid for a long time.

“It’s really, really hard to find a player like that. It’s the way that he is. He is a player who plays well and gives extra when things are tough. He connects with people and I think that’s why he is going to be a legend.”

Capello was even more effusive in his praise of Bellingham.

“It’s surprising to see an English player succeed so quickly in Real Madrid because they usually need a long time,” he said.

“Only the super players can play like him at this age – (Lionel) Messi and some others. It was an incredible performance that I saw yesterday (Sunday night) in a really important game like El Clasico because he was very good on every part of the pitch.

“He ran back and covered the ball. The fans understand a lot of this. As supporters they know this player wants to win. He runs and fights.”

Laureus

From left: Laureus World Academy members Alessandro del Piero, Ruud Gullit, Laureus ambassador Fabio Capello, Raul and Marcel Desailly at the Euro 2024 press conference before the Laureus World Sports Awards at the Palacio de Cibeles in Madrid, Spain. (Photo: Borja B Hojas / Getty Images for Laureus)

Although Bellingham was a little quiet in a surprisingly open first half of El Clasico, he exploded into the game in the second half, scoring the 91st-minute winner.

Desailly praised Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti for keeping faith in the youngster at a time when he had already substituted superstar Vinicius Junior.

“I think Bellingham is lucky with Ancelotti who has a tactical set-up that helps him really well,” Desailly said. “He brought off Vinicius but kept Bellingham on the field even though he had not been playing that well and got to show his intelligence. He finally got his opportunity because of that super, super intelligence.

“Bellingham has the legs to defend and to position himself and identify the correct momentum to place the killer ball or through his cleverness to help the collective of the team.

“He is a good player for now, though. Some are trying to compare him to Zidane – it’s difficult [to] accept he could be at that level. It’s a whole career, and the usage of the ball is different between Zidane and Bellingham. 

“Bellingham is more straightforward, more acceleration. Zidane was more of a ‘disruptor’, as we say in France.”

Either way, the Euros can’t come quickly enough. DM

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