IN four years spent in English football’s highest office, Fabio Capello bore witness to more live games at the San Siro than he did at both the Stadium of Light and St James’ Park combined.
In that time only one player eligible to play for England was on show in Milan – David Beckham.
Some 51 Englishmen have played regularly for Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Sunderland in the same period, not that the Italian seemed particularly concerned.
Quite why Capello saw fit to turn the region into some kind of sporting Siberia during his tenure is not clear, but it was a serious oversight from someone paid £5.2million to supposedly have his finger on the pulse of English football.
In fact, it was downright insulting to a region which boasts the third and seventh best supported sides in the country.
He was pressed on it only once, during a cosy sofa chat on Sky Sports when a presenter asked him about his lack of attendance at St James’ Park.
In creaking English he explained that he was supposed to visit once, when Manchester United were the opponents, but amid Arctic conditions in the North East his aeroplane developed a technical fault and he could not get airborne.
Somehow, that seems apt considering the frosty relationship which developed between bosses around here and England’s head coach.
For those who argue it is immaterial, consider the damage it has done to our region to have a disinterested man in charge of the Three Lions.
It cost Sunderland any chance of holding on to Darren Bent.
Black Cats fans might argue that Bent ended up chasing a bigger pay day in the Midlands and there may be merit in that viewpoint – but Capello’s counsel played a part.
The Journal understands the player was advised by the England manager Sunderland were too defensive in style to ever bring out the best in Bent.
He felt playing for a more expansive team would give him more of a chance to show his predatory instincts.
It was a view formed by watching the Black Cats countless times on their travels, but showed a complete ignorance of the team Steve Bruce had put together. While naturally more conservative and cautious on the road, Sunderland were not afraid to attack the big guns on their own patch and Bent had proved that in red and white.
That Bent’s eventual destination was Aston Villa, where Capello was a regular visitor during his tenure, was no surprise.
He became a regular starter after his move in January 2011. In Capello’s time we became accustomed to watching young English players move on from the region.
Last summer Jordan Henderson followed Andy Carroll as a move away from the North East became one of the few ways to catch the eye of the England manager.
No wonder interest in the national team has waned over the last four years. When informed about Capello’s lack of attendance at St James’ Park, Newcastle boss Alan Pardew was genuinely surprised.
Pardew might not yet be a realistic candidate to take over his country but he remains a passionate supporter of the national team and a patriot to his core.
He is not from the North East but has always recognised the importance of the region in the grander scheme of English football – and he expects Capello’s successor to reverse the worrying trend.
He said: “If you are an England manager from this country, you should understand the need to come to these places and that certain things need to be done. He should have been up here. There are not that many Premier League grounds and as a Premier League manager you do not have a workload which means you cannott get to them at some stage in a season and I expect to see the new England manager here.”
Appointing bookmakers favourite Harry Redknapp will not spark immediate enthusiasm among the region’s football fans.
The Tottenham boss has had a frosty relationship with Newcastle supporters ever since he turned down the St James’ Park job and public statements over the last two years have hardly endeared him to Tyneside natives.
Murmurings about unsettling Newcastle or Sunderland players by talking about them out of turn became a crescendo when he talked of a release clause in Demba Ba’s contract in January.
Whatever you may say about Redknapp, though, he has a much greater feel for the rhythms of English football.
He will not ignore the North East’s top-flight teams if he answers the Football Association’s call.
We must hope Stuart Pearce’s advice is treated with respect, too.
The England under-21 boss has consistently recognised North East talent, bringing Sammy Ameobi into the fold in November to add to a crop of Wearside and Teesside talent which has established itself in age-group sides.
Hopefully, the winds of change rushing through the Wembley corridors will reach English football’s most northerly outpost.