Chelsea: A Bridge too Far for Luiz Felipe Scolari
After less than one month of searching and deliberating, Chelsea has found themselves a new boss.
Former Brazilian World Cup winning manager and current Portuguese coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, has accepted the role vacated by Avram Grant. Scolari will take up his position following the culmination of the European Championships in Switzerland and Austria.
While drafting in a World Cup winner as head coach seems like an ideal appointment for the team that still misses the touch of the “Special One,” Jose Mourinho, I can’t help but think it’s a gamble.
Scolari has never managed in Europe apart from his current spell with the Portuguese national team. His managerial teeth were cut in the 1980s at a series of small provincial Brazilian sides as well as spells in the football heartlands of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. After a term in charge of the Kuwaiti national team and a couple of other clubs in the Kuwaiti league, he returned to his homeland with Gremio in his second spell with the club before moving on to Brazilian giants, Palmeiras and Cruziero.
Following three State Championships, a National League Title and nine assorted Cup wins including two Copa Libertadores, Scolari has spent the last seven years in international football.
International and club football are two very different creatures. International football is essentially cup football. Matches are infrequent and time spent with players is limited. An international cup run, as well as a domestic cup runs hinges on several “winner-takes-all,” games.
The World Cup for example only required his set of players to be fit, motivated and in-form for seven matches over a one-month period. The European Championships require only six games. In the same way, domestic cup competitions require a similar level of application to what are essentially a series of one off games.
To achieve success in club football requires consistency and, of course, ability. Scolari is inheriting a squad of undoubtedly talented players. His task, however is not to get them motivated for a one month challenge, with national pride at stake, but getting a set of men from all corners of the world to gel, within his own tactics and ideas over a 38 game season— a season that will be interrupted by other competitions, have fixture congestion, involve derby matches and require trips places like Wigan on a wet and windy Monday night in December.
Scolari's successes at club level reflect on his abilities as a “cup manager.” In his 26-year managerial career, he has so far, won five league championships. Of those, four were State Championships which involve a duel league format, with 14 games, followed by a knockout playoff between the best 16 of the two leagues—in essence, a maximum of 17 matches to win the championship.
His victory with Gremio in a 38 game season Championship in 1996 is the only competition he has won that mimics the EPL format. Scolari will, have to face the pressures of stepping into the shoes of Mourinho—the man who brought back-to-back titles to the club in his first two seasons.
He will also have to out do the unpopular Grant, who took his team to within one game of the EPL Title and also led Chelsea into their first Champions League Final. Anything less for Big Phil, will be deemed as a failure.
He famously turned down the England job in 2006 due to the intrusive English press. What made him think that his treatment by the tabloids would be any less of a nuisance in the Stamford Bridge hot seat, than with the national team?
There is no doubt Scolari is an excellent football coach. His achievements to date are impressive regardless of the format, and winning titles in the Brazilian leagues are no easier than winning them elsewhere. What should be a concern to Chelsea followers is his unfamiliarity with everything that comes with managing an EPL team, including the language.
Having been out of club football for seven years and having never managed in Europe—does he have an idea of which players excel and which ones to sign? Does he know Bolton and Blackburn like to play an intimidating rough style?
Does he grasp the importance of the games against Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham? Does he even know where Hull and Stoke are?
Through their Russian financial backing Chelsea have become a successful and high profile club. The demand for success and levels of expectancy seemed to have made the job a poisoned chalice. Numerous managers turned down the role and the previous manager was sacked after coming runners up in the league, League Cup and Champions League.
Scolari has the grit and determination to make a success of his time at the Bridge, but with so many factors working against him, it could be the toughest job he’s ever had.
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