Seeing Luiz Felipe Scolari in charge of Brazil is a reminder that he has happily rebounded from his short and very unproductive spell with Chelsea. Ironically, four of Scolari’s squad, on which the fate of the nation depends, were Chelsea players last season: Luiz, Ramires, Willian and Oscar.
When Scolari arrived at Stamford Bridge, he was feted as the man who would bring the Brazilian “samba football” to the club. After Jose Mourinho exited stage left in 2007 after “failing” to win a third Premier title – despite the consolation of the FA Cup and Football League Cup – and the humble, stumbling figure of Avram Grant was discarded after a campaign of near misses, Scolari was one of the highest profile managers money could buy. And being Brazilian, he carried a massive premium.
Roman Abramovich wanted nothing more than to create Barcelona or Brazil in London SW6. But he forgot that the Brazilian side of 2002 was as much about function as form, despite the presence of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho.
In fact, the image of Brazilian football that too many people persistently treasure is about as accurate as believing the Hungarian game is still deserving of the “Mighty Magyar” label that was consigned to the archives long ago.
Scolari admitted that the motive for joining Chelsea was mostly a financial one. “I don’t want to work until I am 70,” he said. He became the first World Cup winning manager to ply his trade in the Premier. He had a successful stint with Portugal that saw the Iberians finish runners-up in the 2004 European Championship and reach the World Cup semi-finals two years later. Then he turned down the chance to manage England, fearing “media intrusion”, but in many ways, his next job was more demanding than a role with the Football Association.
He joined Chelsea, and a team that was in need of some rejuvenation. Scolari bought Deco, a former Mourinho acolyte, from Barcelona. Deco, who was 30, never settled at Chelsea and his arrival did nothing to add the fresh legs to a side thaty was built around power and energy.
But Chelsea started well under Scolari and up until Christmas, they had lost twice in the Premier. But their final game of 2008 was a 2-2 draw with neighbours Fulham, giving them 10 points from 21. The dark clouds were forming around Stamford Bridge. When they lost 3-0 at Old Trafford, a feeble capitulation, the rumblings got louder. The boss was not happy. And to pour petrol on the burning embers, Mourinho sat in the Manchester United stand that afternoon with a wry grin on his face.
It must have been a bitter-sweet experience for Mourinho, who was then coach of Internazionale. It proved to many people that the Portuguese’s methods were the difference between a club with lots of money and a club with lots of ill-spent money. Conversely, he must have been saddened that his Chelsea had become a shadow of the team that so impressively won the Premier League in 2005 and 2006.
At the beginning of February 2009, Chelsea were held at home to a 0-0 draw by Hull with their fans jeering them off the pitch. They were slipping out of contention for the title and languishing in fourth place. Scolari was sacked after a Chelsea career that had lasted 36 games and generated a win-rate of 56%, losing just five games. To benchmark Scolari’s time at Chelsea, Mourinho had a 67% win rate in his first spell with the club.
There were rumours in the aftermath of his sacking that Scolari didn’t have the full support of the Chelsea players. Since then, suggestions of “Player power” at Stamford Bridge have been a regular part of every managerial upheaval at the club. Almost predictably, Chelsea proved to be the wrong club for Scolari, or at least “right man, wrong time”. His biggest problem was that he was not Mourinho, on or off the field, and if the Chelsea board was expecting the Fulham Road to become Copacabana beach, they should have realised that Brazil abandoned their birthright style after being turfed out of the World Cup in 1982 by Italy.
As he drove out of Stamford Bridge, you could be forgiven for thinking that Scolari’s career was ebbing to a close, but a few months later, he became the highest paid manager in the world when he joined Uzbekistani champions Bunyodkor. Within a year, though, he was back in Brazil, managing Palmeiras for the second time and winning the Copa do Brasil in 2012.
Despite being in charge as Palmeiras headed for relegation, Scolari was still in demand. When the Brazilian Football Federation fired Mano Menezes because they did not like his methods, they turned to the man who led them to triumph in the 2002 World Cup. Scolari had turned down offers to coach Russia and top Brazilian clubs Gremio and Cruzeiro.
There were some concerns that Brazil were taking a backward step in bringing back Scolari, who was now 64 years of age. His first game was a 2-1 defeat at the hands of England, reviving memories of his ill-fated London sojourn. Although Brazilian footballing authorities wanted a man they could trust to spearhead “their” World Cup, he is not universally popular. He has a reputation for being stubborn and somewhat pig-headed at times. Like all Brazil managers, he runs the gauntlet of not just trial by media, but trial by a jury of almost 200 million people.
But it’s good to see Scolari back in the saddle, if only to prove that there is life after being jettisoned from one of the marquee jobs in football. As for World Cups, he’s been there before, he knows how to deal with the pressure. But he won’t need reminding that it was 12 years ago…