Headstrong leader who has made an enemy of Mourinho

Jose Manuel Ribiero offers a Portuguese view of their national coach who is poised to take the England reins
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The Independent Football

Perhaps the best way of introducing Luiz Felipe Scolari to an English audience is to mention someone he has, to say the least, had serious problems with: Jose Mourinho. To put it simply, the two men hate each other.

To understand the origins of their feud you need to know a little about Portuguese football culture. Scolari gained his popularity by siding with the city of Lisbon and its teams in Portugal's traditional war between our country's major clubs. In many ways it was a very intelligent option, and Scolari himself said once, while trying to explain why he did not ever watch matches at Dragao Stadium, the home of Porto, that Oporto was "far, far away".

He chose the nearer option ­ Lisbon ­ and it is certainly the one with a stronger press and bigger public support. However, by doing so he also left many of us with the feeling that he has stolen the national team from us.

He also made a falling out with Mourinho, who was Porto coach when Scolari took the national job, inevitable. First came the exclusion of Vitor Baia, Porto's legendary goalkeeper, from the first international squad selected by Scolari. Mourinho reacted by saying that Baia was the best player for the job. Then at the start of Euro 2004 Scolari's first XI only contained a handful of Porto's Champions' League winners with even Deco present only on the bench. That match finished with a defeat against Greece and everybody went for Scolari's blood.

It was no surprise when the team he selected for the second match was, basically, the one Mourinho had taken to Gelsenkirchen for the European Cup final the month before.

Throughout the rest of the tournament, Mourinho demolished Scolari's tactics in a series of newspaper columns that split Portugal. Soon after he became Chelsea manager Mourinho launched another attack on Scolari. He said there was little chance of the Portuguese players at his new club playing for their country as Scolari would never show up at Chelsea. Mourinho was also irritated by the way he felt Scolari handled his players, claiming they stayed with the national team longer than was necessary and didn't like the Brazilian's tactical approach.

To better describe the personality of the next England coach, I should add that, in a recent interview, he said he always planned to change the team in that first match at Euro 2004, because he feared the consequences of banishing fading stars like Rui Costa and Fernando Couto. In other words, Scolari said he needed a bad result to do the right thing.

Even now Baia is the subject of debate in Portugal. Nobody knows why he isn't picked. Scolari has stated that there were "technical and locker-room reasons", but for many of us Baia is simply the most successful Portuguese footballer ever, so what did Scolari mean? No one really knows.

As for referring to the "locker-room", well Scolari has never worked with Baia ­ so how does he know what he's like? The Portuguese are used to this type of insinuation from Scolari.

In England, probably, you would call it defamation, in Portugal we just don't care any more. It's not that we don't have the same ethics, but, considering Scolari's history, those episodes are just grains of sand. After all, we are talking about the national team coach that once swore at a journalist from his favourite newspaper. It was just one of many things he has said which are difficult to believe.

The biggest of them all was about another important subject in his curriculum: Scolari never, or almost never, watches his players' matches live. He thinks television is enough, or, at least, he said he did, when someone asked him why didn't he ever travel to see Porto play. But that is not the complete story. In a more recent interview Scolari revealed that, in fact, he went to see Porto, at the Dragao Stadium, "some 10 or 12 times". This is weird, since nobody noticed that he was there. Not the journalists, the club, the federation: nobody.

Well, for the English this is probably not relevant. In spite of the problems, Scolari was very good at promoting team spirit. The players love him and he has the sympathy of half the population. He also has an astonishing record, whether we consider it to be related with his technical knowledge or simple luck. You can guess my opinion, I suppose.

Jose Manuel Ribiero writes for O Jogo, a daily sports newspaper in Portugal

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