Prior to Brazil’s 2002 World Cup success, in which they struggled to qualify and only sneaked in by the skin of their teeth – they sacked their manager and employed Scolari to take them to the finals, which they promptly won. Scolari was initially employed because he was phenomenally successful in Brazilian club football.
However, he was seen as a pragmatist, a strict disciplinarian, whose sides were perceived as ruthless rather than “easy on the eye”. Well, no sooner did he take charge of Brazil than he worked out a tactical system which not only suited them, but which would go on to conquer the world.
Brazil had the best players (Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho), and so he devised a system which allowed them to roam forward, by packing his midfield with defensive players.
Tactically, he’s as sharp as they come. A pragmatist who instills his sides with a fierce determination, and a man who also allows his players to play – Scolari is a winner.
Since taking the Portugal job, he’s excelled. Sure, they lost the final of the 2004 European Championships against Greece, and that blots his copybook, but no manager in the world has an entirely impeccable record. They were easily the best team of the tournament, even if they had their luck in overcoming England. The football they played was far superior to that of any other team. There were times when they ran rings round us.
Scolari is used to working with supremely gifted individuals. He gets the best out of them because of his tactical nous and man-management skills. However he doesn’t indulge in fantasy football, the type which might be great one season but which might implode the next, ala Rijkaard. His sides are awfully difficult to beat, because he puts as much emphasis on discipline and organisation as he does on allowing his ball-players to play.
Remember when he subbed Figo, and Figo threw a stop? His substitute, Postiga (of all people), scored the equalizer. Big Phil is not afraid to make a decision, nor afraid to court criticism, and willing to prick a few egos.
His brilliant, pro-active management put Sven’s into the shade. Scolari leads and inspires from the touchline – always thinking, always cajoling, never allowing his players off the hook, always driving them on. A more passionate manager you couldn’t find. He is also his own man.
He persevered with many old-timers in Germany 2006, against a backdrop of mounting criticism in Portugal. Those old-timers (such as the keeper Ricardo) delivered and Scolari’s reputation was enhanced. Remember, he’s stifled by the fact Portugal have no strikers to speak of, yet he got them to the semis where they were unlucky to lose to France. Carvalho clipped Henry who decided to dive. Later, Ronaldo was pushed and he too took a dive. One was given, the other wasn’t, hence France went through.
Scolari’s reaction after was telling. With the world watching, he wasn’t interested in ingratiating himself and adding to his mounting reputation. Instead, he showed exactly why his sides are so formidable. He chased the ref off the pitch, lambasting him. He had to be physically restrained. That spoke volumes. This guy does not like losing. He recently was punished for punching an opposing player. Great stuff. This is a guy not to be messed with. He would have killed that ref given the chance.
Now, I know not everyone will be impressed by such antics (I can hear “The Pompous & Sanctimonious Brigade” already penning their responses), but if you want a winner, airs and graces go out the window. Nice guys don’t make great managers. English football particularly is adversarial, it retains its Anglo-Saxon attributes, and a warrior’s mentality is needed. You have to passionately want to win. You have to be prepared to get your hands dirty. The likes of Sven and Rijkaard are unsuited to the cut and thrust of it. Continental football’s more up their street, where they can keep their hands clean. You have to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Fergie and O’Neill. A nasty side stands you in good stead.
Prior to the World Cup, England came calling and Scolari acted totally appropriately, illustrating why he’s held in such high regard by his players and commands so much respect. Rather than being an opportunist, he refused to court another job, particularly as it potentailly compromised his position, seeing as Portugal could be drawn against England, as eventually transpired. Contrast this to Sven’s courting of every job going while England manager.
Some may say it’s irrelevant. It’s not. Great managers are principled. They may appear to have no scruples whatsoever, because of the persona they create for public consumption, but without a moral backbone and a code of ethics by which they govern they can’t excel in their job, because their job requires fairness and honesty. That’s management for you, you have to maintain the players respect. If they view you skeptically, you’re done for. Just ask Avram Grant.
What happened during the World Cup quarter-final…? It was a master class in management. Portugal were decimated from their previous encounter with Holland. Deco suspended, Costinha suspended. Their irreplaceable playmaker and his irreplaceable shield. Their best player, Ronaldo, was far from fit with a dead leg. He’d been butchered in the previous encounter, hobbled off in the first few minutes, yet Holland were still knocked out.
England were supremely confident. Too confident. They didn’t bank on Scolari. Portugal more than matched England until Rooney’s red card, upon which Scolari (incredibly) took off their ineffectual striker and put the crocked Ronaldo up front. It was bizarre, but it showed an alert brain, and someone who’s unafraid of tough calls.
Ronaldo could hardly move, yet Scolari had limited options in terms of personnel. Whilst Sven was rendered impotent, Scolari’s management came to the fore, as he tried everything in his power to put England to the sword. He didn’t hope for it, he went about making it happen. That’s Scolari for you, and it’s an attitude that transmits itself to his team.
Typically, upon being reduced to ten men, with their backs against the wall, England showed their fighting spirit and made a game of it, playing their best football of the tournament. However, if Scolari had more options on the bench, it would have been academic.
During the shoot-out, England looked burdened by pressure, whilst Scolari’s troops were supremely confident and relished every second of it, particularly the much-maligned keeper. That’s what did for us – Scolari inspired. Looking at his bench during the shoot-out, you could see his whole squad were as a family. They were in it together.
Remember, Portual had no right to compete with Engalnd in terms of size and resources. They’re a tiny country. Yet under Scolari, they’ve come within a whisker of winning the Euros and the World Cup. To do that, Scolari has had to change their mindset, and I’ve seen him speak on the subject many times. He understands character. He understands winning. Much like Jose Mourinho did.
Upon arriving, he found Portugal had a defeatist mentality, one that needing changing. As a nation, he felt there was an inferiority complex, and it was deeply imprinted in their psyche. Now, thanks to him, they expect. And you know what, I think they’ll do it this summer, with a side he’s re-built and injected with youth.
Scolari has enormous personality, enormous charisma, and enormous backbone. Pressure doesn’t faze him. He’s strong with players, which is undoubtedly what Chelsea need with so many high-profile performers there. There’ll be no “player power” with him in charge.
Crucially, and unlike Jose, he’s of a more worldly age, and as such will be able to deal with Roman better. Jose and Roman were more or less the same age, so an ego battle was unsurprising as they were both relatively new to it all, whereas Scolari should have the “tools” to appease the owner better whilst still maintaining his authority.
Make no mistake, with Big Phil around there’ll only be one boss. Look out Ferguson.