If there was anything illuminating to be taken from Fabio Capello's first professional appearance in London since his resignation as England manager in February last year it came perhaps in confirmation that he was not, it seems, just putting it on all that time.
Speaking ahead of an intriguing international friendly between Russia and Brazil at Stamford Bridge on Monday night, Capello was the same old endearingly familiar picture of anvil-headed opacity. There were perhaps one or two meagre smiles and even some bantering good-fellowship with his Italian translator but otherwise Capello played the familiar dead bat to pretty much everything thrown at him. Standing up to leave at the end, the FA's 150th anniversary guest of honour was asked, with despairing persistence, if he had seen his previous charges play recently and what he had made of them. "We've finished the press conference. Sorry," came the reply, accompanied by a deliciously withering smile.
If Capello was familiarly Capello, his team promise a little more in the way of entertainment. There are signs even that in the Iron Sergeant Russia has finally found the man to chivvy this most historically underwhelming of potential international heavyweights into competitive shape. Absent from the World Cup finals since 2002, and with the Andrey Arshavin-inspired semi-final at Euro 2008 a sole tournament high of the post-Soviet Union era, Russia have lost only one of their last 24 matches going back to February 2011 and are striding away from the pack in World Cup qualifying Group F. Russia have four wins from four and no goals conceded, a record preserved by the postponement of Friday's qualifier in Belfast, on which subject there were diplomatic words here. "It was impossible to play," Capello said. "There was snow and rain and the pitch was really wet." Was there an advantage for Russia in having the match called off? Quite the opposite. "For this game Northern Ireland had two important players suspended. For the next game they will be OK. For us it is the same. No advantage."
In fact Russia's advantage in Group F is already palpable. Capello seems certain to be in Brazil next year, as of course does Luiz Felipe Scolari, three months and two defeats into the job as Brazil's firefighter-in-chief as preparations for that tantalising Hexa, or sixth World Cup, continue to fizzle along. In terms of sub-plots Monday's friendly is, in its own way, a tale of two men whose paths have been oddly intertwined on Big Football's managerial carousel. Scolari almost took the England job but ended up at Chelsea a year later. Capello was talked up as a candidate for Chelsea's managerial ejector seat both before and after he ended up with England. Both are now in charge of future World Cup hosts, Capello with Russia, whose successful "cluster city" bid outgunned England's Wills-Becks-Dave offering at a time when Don Fabio himself was rather grouchily backing the claims of his then employers.
Beyond this it is Capello and Russia who are in better fettle. Perhaps scenting a notable first victory over Brazil the Italian was relatively engaged on the subject of Monday's opposition. "I watched Brazil versus Italy on television," he said. "They suffered on the counter-attack but I have read that Thiago Silva will play [at Stamford Bridge], one of the fastest defenders in the world, so probably they will not be so vulnerable. Brazil's front four are very fast, very technical players on the counter-attack. We will need to be very compact."
Scolari appeared after an open training session in which Brazil, watched by a shivering mob-handed domestic media, strolled their way through a set of cheerful and enjoyably noisy drills; the noticeably slight and coltish Neymar, linked to Chelsea in football's background rumour-ville for the past few years, drawing most attention from the gathered photographers. Earlier in the afternoon Brazil's captain, David Luiz, had suggested Scolari had "great memories" of his time at Chelsea, where he was sacked after eight months, and that winning a friendly here would be "the cherry on top of the cake".
And Scolari, as ever, was similarly upbeat, even voicing a mild note of personal defiance over his time in west London. "It is really a joy to come back here. It was a time [at Chelsea] I really enjoyed. The only thing I didn't like is the cold. I had totally forgotten about that."
"I believe my time at Chelsea wasn't as bad as people say. I can't really say if my team might have won anything but the numbers don't lie. We were third in the Premier League, we had qualified for the next stage of the Champions League.
"Actually I want to thank Chelsea for the chance to come and work here. Living in London with my family was one of the greatest experiences of my life."