Luiz Felipe Scolari smiles in face of torment
No pressure can compare with being Brazil's manager at a home World Cup but 'Big Phil' can take it
International football management is not a country for young men, and at Wembley on Wednesday two old grizzlies will exchange a warm handshake before England and Brazil meet for the first time in four years. The 65-year-old Roy Hodgson attempts to become only the third England manager to beat the Brazilians in 23 meetings, but it is clear where the greater pressure lies. His opposite number, Luiz Felipe Scolari, 64, deemed a failure by Chelsea but still a hero in his native land, returns to London to begin a second period as coach of Brazil; he is expected, simply, to win the World Cup – again.
It was the triumph in 2002 as much as anything that led to Chelsea making him the successor to Avram Grant six years later. Having a World Cup-winning manager around the place clearly appealed to Roman Abramovich, and for a while the players responded well. His team topped the table for most of the opening four months, then fell away in the new year and Scolari was sacked because of "results and performances deteriorating at a key time in the season".
His reputation assured demand for his services, leading to a lucrative assignment in Uzbekistan and two years back home with Palmeiras, which ended in the sack. Yet when Brazil's Mano Menezes was dismissed in November, and a non-Brazilian candidate, Pep Guardiola, hinted it was one job he might break his sabbatical for, the national association rushed back to the last man to have won them the World Cup.
Tim Vickery, who writes a weekly blog for the BBC on South American football, suggests: "There can't have been a team in World Cup history under the same pressure as Brazil will have next year." The only comparison might be with the last time they hosted the finals, in 1950, when they unthinkably lost the final to Uruguay, which is still spoken of as "The Defeat"; yet for all the fanaticism then, media coverage hardly compared to the present.
According to Vickery, Scolari has a "Teflon quality" in Brazil: "In his last job, he effectively got Palmeiras, a big team, relegated, which doesn't seem to have affected his prestige at all. He's regarded as a father figure, with his natural charisma and humour, which plays really well. So although there was some sympathy for Menezes, who had some good results, the appointment has gone down extremely well."
Scolari's squad has been well received too, especially the return of Ronaldinho, who was ignored for a year by Menezes but is playing well for Atletico Mineiro. For a while Brazil played with a "false nine", flooding the midfield with the likes of Neymar, Chelsea's Oscar and Kaka, but Kaka has been left out and Ronaldinho can expect to play behind a central striker such as the recalled Luis Fabiano. Liverpool's Lucas Leiva is disappointed to be omitted, having said recently: "Of course, I am really looking forward to getting back in the national team, having been out for a while because of injuries."
Liverpool's new signing Philippe Coutinho, who won his only cap in 2010, is not included either, but Oscar is joined by his Chelsea team-mates Ramires and David Luiz, and it will be interesting to see how Scolari uses Luiz. He has often favoured a 3-5-2 system – including at the 2002 World Cup – and Luiz would be the obvious candidate as a third centre-half if there is time to introduce the system before Wednesday night.
As to next summer, Scolari's attitude appears to be that while "we have to win, of that there is no argument", he is sufficiently experienced to take everything in his stride.
"I was under pressure the first time , when we were in danger of not going to the World Cup," he said. "The players are those who always have pressure over them, I don't."
He does not see England as contenders. "Spain come to mind for what they have achieved. Germany have done a good rebuilding job since 2003. Italy are among the favourites, traditionally and because of the way they play, and Argentina because of the quality of players at their disposal."
After the first of the Football Association's 150th anniversary friendlies, Brazil go to Italy, Russia, England again and France before the Confederations Cup, by which time the 50 players Scolari is considering should have been whittled down and football will have a better idea of how its best-loved country is shaping up in search of a sixth world title.
Breaking point: Timing is wrong for Hodgson
Roy Hodgson is itching to start work again tomorrow after a three-month break but admits that for most of his players, Wednesday's friendly comes at a hectic time. "The problem is the timing of it," he said. "Our situation has been compounded by the fact the FA Cup has pushed a round of League matches into midweek, so we're talking about [playing] Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Tuesday." Nine squad members are due to play today and will not be able to take part in full training tomorrow. "It's got to be recovery rather than tactical work," Hodgson said. "Then on Tuesday you have to be careful what you do because it's the day before the game."
Brazil squad Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (QPR), Diego Alves (Valencia). Defenders: Dani Alves (Barcelona), Adriano (Barcelona), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Dante (Bayern), David Luiz (Chelsea), Leandro Castan (Roma), Miranda (Atletico Madrid). Midfielders: Arouca (Santos), Paulinho (Corinthians), Hernanes (Lazio), Ronaldinho (Atletico Mineiro), Oscar (Chelsea), Ramires (Chelsea). Forwards: Fred (Fluminense), Luis Fabiano (Sao Paulo), Neymar (Santos), Lucas Moura (Paris St-Germain), Hulk (Zenit St Petersburg).
England squad Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke), Joe Hart (Man City). Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Joleon Lescott (Man City), Chris Smalling (Man Utd), Kyle Walker (Tottenham). Midfielders: Michael Carrick (Man Utd), Tom Cleverley (Man Utd), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham), James Milner (Man City), Leon Osman (Everton), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal). Forwards: Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Wayne Rooney (Man Utd), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Danny Welbeck (Man Utd).
Look beyond the usual shows for the best festive telly
The battle for control of Stieg Larsson's £30m legacy
Geoffrey Macnab does not like the comedian's big screen debut
Latest in Sport
- 1 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 2 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 3 Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
- 4 Cycle death inquest: Boyfriend hugs driver of 32 tonne tipper truck that killed his girlfriend
- 5 Burglar steals video tapes of child abuse, hands them into police