Fabio Capello of Italy was appointed England's national soccer coach Friday. He replaces Steve McClaren, who was fired last month after England failed to qualify for the 2008 European Championship.

LONDON — One of soccer’s most successful coaches, Fabio Capello now has what might be the toughest job in the game.

The Italian was appointed coach of England’s national team Friday by the Football Association. He replaces Steve McClaren, who was fired last month after England failed to qualify for the 2008 European Championship. McClaren was the latest in a long list of coaches unable to add to England’s 1966 World Cup triumph.

Capello signed a 41/2-year contract through the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championships and will begin work Jan. 7, the FA said. His contract is worth a reported $12.2 million a year. Capello was in Italy on Friday and will be introduced at a news conference in London on Monday.

“When we set out to recruit the new manager, we said we were committed to appointing a world-class candidate,” FA chief executive Brian Barwick said. “In Fabio Capello we have that man.”

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Capello won 14 trophies with four clubs — AC Milan, AS Roma, Juventus and Real Madrid. He has a record of nine domestic titles and one Champions League triumph.

A renowned disciplinarian, he will have to get the best out of Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and, of course, his former Real Madrid star, David Beckham, the player he dropped and then reinstated.

Because England failed to qualify for next year’s Euros, the team has no competitive matches until European qualifying for the 2010 World Cup begins in September. Capello’s first game will be the Feb. 6 exhibition against Switzerland at Wembley, followed by a March 26 trip to Paris against France.

Capello not only has to make sure England qualifies for the World Cup in South Africa, but he also must turn soccer’s perennial underachievers into a title-winning team.

He is not fluent in English and faces a skeptical nation, with many wanting an English coach. The move comes only 18 months after a Swede, Sven-Goran Eriksson, was in charge.

“Hopefully he gets the support he needs because it’s not going to be an easy job,” Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson said. “There’s a bit of work to do with the England team to get them to the level that you all expect. There’s tremendous pressure on the England coach, which Fabio will understand when he’s two minutes into the job. But you need the experience that he’s got.”

Capello’s staff will include Italian assistants Franco Baldini and Italo Galbiati, goalkeeping coach Franco Tancredi and fitness coach Massimo Neri. The FA said Capello will discuss with FA director Trevor Brooking the possibility of having an Englishman on the coaching staff. Stuart Pearce, the England Under-21 coach who was at FA headquarters Friday, is the favorite for that job.