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Tim Vickery column

Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Luiz Felipe Scolari shocked the press with his command of English last week at his first press conference as Chelsea boss - but the Brazilian coach has consistently shown a capacity for surprise.

Luiz Filipe Scolari
Scolari has enjoyed success in virtually every job he has held
When he made his name with Gremio in the mid 1990s there was a consensus in the Brazilian game that Scolari could only do one thing - send his teams out to play aggressive, rugged football in a 4-4-2 formation with a bombardment of crosses for a target man centre forward.

When he won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002 he demonstrated that there was much more to him. He played a back three, a system he had always scorned, he worked without a target man and he got the best out of big star names.

Then he crossed the Atlantic to take charge of Portugal and showed that he could succeed in a different culture.

So far he has vaulted every hurdle that has been placed in front of him. He has proved himself to be a highly gifted coach. But now he faces the most daunting challenge of his career.

The Chelsea job is fascinating for three reasons.

Firstly, because Scolari has no experience with the kind of multi-national squad that he will be working with. There is nothing in South American football that can possibly prepare a coach for such a task.

There have been previous cases of South American coaches who withdrew from European football in defeat complaining about the difficulty of forming a group from a squad comprised of 15 different nationalities.

Scolari burns a short fuse. He has lost his patience and clumped people in Brazil and Portugal

Tim Vickery
This is especially fascinating in Scolari's case because he is above all else a former of groups. Brazil's 2002 squad were dubbed "the Scolari family" but how will he achieve the same effect with the Chelsea squad?

He found that his motivational methods had to be adapted in Portugal. The tub-thumping religious exhortations left the Portuguese cold. Instead he had to get through to his players on an individual basis.

Can he do this in a second language with such a cosmopolitan squad? His sports psychologist Regina Brandao rates Scolari as a genius in this respect. He may have to live up to her words if he is to make a success of his new job.

Secondly, there is the question of his relations with the press. A pre-season, easy to prepare conference is one thing. The heat of battle is another.

Scolari burns a short fuse. He has lost his patience and clumped people in Brazil and Portugal. He knows all about the pressure of the Brazilian press - the English tabloids are a different kind of monster altogether.

Luiz Filipe Scolari
Scolari guided Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002
At the first sign of a story they will smell blood. The seagulls, as Eric Cantona put it, might well have another trawler to follow.

Thirdly, there is the fact that Scolari has very little experience of working in a league format. When he was a club coach in Brazil the domestic championship used a play-off system, with the top clubs qualifying for the knock-out phase.

Scolari made it clear during Euro 2008 that he has a special feeling for knock-out games. He loves building the players up to an emotional peak. Clearly this will come in handy in the Champions League.

But what about the Premier League? A league competition with games every week, where three points in August are worth the same as three points in May. These are uncharted waters Scholari.

There is no doubt that he will need considerable input from key figures already at the club - which perhaps he lacked in his previous job.

Scolari's early days with Portugal were clouded by a 3-0 defeat to Spain in a friendly. He had used the occasion to experiment, and said afterwards that he had been surprised by the negative reaction.

606: DEBATE
A Hoser
Astonishingly, he had had no idea that the local rivalry with Spain meant that no match between them could ever truly be described as a 'friendly.'

He got away with this lapse because he was the coach of a national team who were hosting the next international tournament. He had no competitive games until Euro 2004, and so he was aware that there would be a two-year period before his work could really be judged.

With Chelsea it is very different. A month from now there are three points at stake against Portsmouth.


You can put your questions to Tim Vickery every week on the World Football Phone-in on BBC Radio 5 Live's Up All Night programme from 0230 to 0400 BST every Saturday. You can also download last week's World Football Phone-in Podcast.

YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

How do you rate Almeria's new record signing Pablo Piatti? Will he be the next big star or an expensive flop?
Luke Summers

He was the youngest member of the team that won the World Youth Cup for Argentina a year ago, and afterwards he was really buzzing for Estudiantes.

He's a tiny, gnat-like figure who is probably at his best operating wide left - his club were playing him in a front three. An elusive runner with the ball, with a lovely change of direction and can score goals as well as set them up.

As is often the case with young players - he's only 19 - I don't think he's been as good this season as he was last - opponents know a bit more about him and are looking out for him more,

I hope I'm wrong, but my worry here is that he's moved too soon. I think there were stages he still needed to go through in Argentina.

So many budding footballers from Argentina and Brazil have made the speculative move to Russia (and Ukraine) in recent years but only a handful have managed to emerge with any kind of success.

With such hindsight in mind, why do you think South American youngsters are still taking this road less travelled? Is the lure of the roubles more important than personal achievement in terms of playing in the major European leagues, which will be a more direct route to the national teams of Argentina and Brazil? Is the chance of putting on the national team shirt not as important as before?
Darien Loh, Singapore

I don't think the lure of the national team shirt is any weaker than before - South Americans make sacrifices to play for their national teams that many Europeans would not be prepared to go through.

Part of the point is indeed the fact that the big clubs in Russia and Ukraine pay very well at the moment - this is professional football, after all.

But another point is that they are often first at the table to offer transfer money to buy the South American players. And here the youngsters are caught in the middle of some very strong forces - very often his club need to sell him to pay off some debts, or he is owned by an investment consortium looking for a quick profit.

His agent is dreaming of his slice of the cake. So if an offer comes in - from Russia, Ukraine or wherever - a lot of people have an interest in the deal going through and the player gets caught in the flow.


Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at vickerycolumn@hotmail.com


see also
Blues slated over Scolari timing
20 Jun 08 |  Portugal
Scolari - the view from Brazil
12 Jun 08 |  Chelsea
Big Phil's best quotes
12 Jun 08 |  Football
Scolari's career in photos
11 Jun 08 |  Chelsea
Scolari named as Chelsea manager
11 Jun 08 |  Chelsea
Tim Vickery column
07 Jul 08 |  Football


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