England coach Fabio Capello has broken cover after a month of intense post-World Cup criticism to concede that he always knew his players were too exhausted to succeed, while telling them they must be mentally tougher in the future.
Capello clung onto his job despite England's humiliating 4-1 second-round loss to Germany, although the Italian said he would have understood if the Football Association had terminated his contract.
Now the former Real Madrid and Juventus coach needs to regain the trust of the squad.
"I have confidence in these players - I hope they will have confidence in me," he said ahead of Wednesday's friendly against Hungary.
At his first media briefing since South Africa, Capello flitted between pessimism and optimism when discussing his ability to transform the team before the 2012 European Championship, but started by issuing an apology to fans.
"I know they spent a lot of time and money following England and I'm really sorry," Capello said in an executive box overlooking the Wembley Stadium pitch.
Thousands of fans flew across the world with high expectations after England's impressive qualifying campaign, but the team managed just two dismal draws and one win before crashing out of the tournament.
Capello has retained just 10 players from that 23-man squad and brought in three uncapped players for Wednesday's friendly - a match the coach feared he wouldn't be around for.
"If the FA decided to sack me I would have understood it," said Capello, who has two years remaining on his contract. "I thought a lot about the situation but I'm a fighter and I've never quit in my career. I always look forward."
But first he must look back: why did a team that won nine out of ten qualifiers perform so badly on the main stage? Capello is still blaming the grueling domestic season for leaving the players exhausted by May.