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16 Agustus 2008

Football: Scolari strikes the right note as Chelsea aim to strut with a Brazilian beat

Luiz Felipe Scolari is already bucking the trend. Other top-flight managers, past or present, might have used a first pre-match briefing ahead of a competitive fixture as an opportunity to undermine their rivals' credentials. Instead, the World Cup winner called for hush yesterday and introduced his press conference with words more courteous than caustic. "I want to wish all my colleagues the best," he said. "Some I know, and others I have not yet met, but I wish the coaches and teams all luck for the season."
The Brazilian enters uncharted territory this weekend. The 59-year-old has not coached at club level since he was in charge at Cruzeiro some seven years ago, and he has only ever surveyed the Premiership from a distance. He met six of those with whom he will compete at this week's Premier League managers' meeting, but their conversations were snatched with time precious and the season looming large. Yet his counterparts in English domestic football, not least those in charge of the other usual suspects competing for the title, will soon grow to know the new arrival in their number.
Scolari was remarkably candid yesterday, outlining how he hopes to instigate a Brazilian style of football at his new club but never veering too far from the recognition that pragmatism will dictate his side's approach. He has drilled his side incessantly over the past fortnight in defending set-pieces, the videos of last season over which he has pored having revealed too many frailties for comfort. Regardless, he still expects mistakes to be made in tomorrow's opening fixture against Portsmouth with their barrage of "players who are over 180cm tall". Eradicating those errors will be key to whether his first season yields silverware, yet the veteran of 13 clubs sides and three national teams will not have his focus from the dug-out blurred by any debut nerves of his own.
"When I was younger, the challenge was very different for me," he said. "Back then I needed to prove myself to the players and the men who had hired me to show them I was a good coach and I worked hard. But now it is different. I expect there to be some mistakes from my team against Portsmouth. I know it's impossible to go out on to the field and play at 100% after just six weeks together. We might play well and win. We might play badly and need to change things. But, either way, I won't kill myself if we lose. I am more experienced than that and will make sure my team is in good condition given time.
"The idea, eventually, is to play a game that is as similar to Brazilian football as we can. But I have players here who are made for English football. Their characteristics are different. We'll try to learn new things - about dribbling, controlling the ball, passing, touch and playing one-twos - but I still need to respect the identity of my players. I need to impress on them what I think about football. When it comes to our style, Roman Abramovich is the same as our fans - they want us to play beautiful football and win. But people need to understand that, sometimes, it's difficult to do that. Sometimes it's impossible because our opponents play a different style. And if you don't win, people forget that you played well. You can play well for one or two months then, when you stop winning, people kill you and it's over."
That was accompanied by the Brazilian feigning a slash across his throat, with this having proved the most ruthless of the elite four clubs in recent times.
Scolari has been thrust into direct confrontation with Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger and Rafael Benítez but, while he will sit easily in their company, he anticipates challenges to emerge from all sides. He expects Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, Portsmouth and Manchester City to mount an assault on the top six. Wigan, his team's second league opponents, "will give us big problems".
Mingled in with the man-management skills which have seen him attempt to "put fire" into Nicolas Anelka - "I need to work in his head because he has so much quality" - has been a succession of team meetings this week aimed solely at deflecting Pompey at Stamford Bridge. "I've asked Steve [Clarke] and the players about Harry Redknapp, about how he works," he said. "A team's approach is set by the manager's ideas, so I needed to understand him better. They said some things which made me respect him more than before.
"The managers have a big influence in England because the quality of the players in this league is actually very similar. The top managers are able to get their players focusing on winning and maybe that can be the difference. I have been speaking with Frank [Lampard] and John Terry. It's easier for me to speak with the Portuguese and Brazilians, but I've worked all week on Portsmouth because I respect them. Managers must influence their players' minds each week.
"I will get to know the other coaches here. I don't know [Sir Alex] Ferguson yet, we're not friends from before, as I've only met him two or three times. I don't know his ideas. It's impossible for me to know how he works after only meeting him that many times, but he's a fantastic manager - he's not a 'coach', but a manager - and an intelligent man. He's won many times with Manchester United and other teams, but there are other very good coaches and managers in England. In this country you need to prove every day just how good you are because, in this league, if you're not up to it for a minute then you lose.
"To be champions here is not about winning one or two big games, but about being consistent. You can't be at the top of your game one day, at 9/10, and then slip to 4/10 the next. You need to be at 7/10 every game at least. We have to win the league. But, if we don't, it will not be because we have not worked hard enough. It will be because another team has done better, and that does not make me a bad coach or my players bad players." The Premier League tends to distort perspective. The first Brazilian to manage in its ranks will hope to make a lasting impression.