Volatile and versatile - winning the Big Phil way

The Brazilian's approach may offend purists, but his success is undeniable. Phil Shaw examines a manager with a touch of Brian Clough about him
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The Independent Football

The last time England entrusted the manager's job to a man with a modest pedigree as a lower-division defender, it ended in tears. Luiz Felipe Scolari is no Graham Taylor, but the technical area which became a torture zone during Taylor's final games promises to be a livelier place if Portugal's Brazilian coach succeeds Sven Goran Eriksson.

Away from the fray, Scolari, aka Felipao or Big Phil, has much of the urbanity that characterises Taylor and Eriksson. He is deeply religious and reputedly devoted to his wife, Olga, and their two grown-up sons.

When the match kicks off, however, so does Scolari. During his apprenticeship as a club coach in Brazil, his antics were so volatile that television stations kept cameras focused on him throughout a game to be certain of catching one of his more combustible moments.

Those included at least two sendings-off, an embarrassment he endured again after gesturing offensively to the referee when Brazil played Paraguay. Then there was a spiky invitation to another official, which was captured on film, to settle their differences "outside".

If there were shades in those episodes of Brian Clough "cuffing" pitch-invading youths, that should not be surprising. Scolari was impressed by Clough's European Cup-winning teams of a quarter of a century ago at Nottingham Forest and is said to retain a soft spot for the club.

He has also gained a name for endorsing gamesmanship by complaining that his players committed too few fouls and for stretching the rules to the limits. There have been accusations, for example, of his ordering the ball boys to throw on spare balls to disrupt the rhythm of opponents pressing for an equaliser.

Nor has he been averse to thumping reporters - something most England managers, especially Taylor, have felt like doing. Fortunately for the Football Association, there is more to this 57-year-old Gene Hackman lookalike than a short fuse and a cynical streak.

Leading Brazil to the World Cup in 2002 for one thing; guiding Portugal to the final of the European Championship two years later for another. In both tournaments, of course, he got the better of Eriksson and England in the quarter-finals. Before that came 10 major trophies in club football. All of which - set next to the silverware won by Messrs McClaren, Pearce, Curbishley, Allardyce et al - makes him the obvious choice.

Scolari's family were among the 25 million Italians who emigrated to Brazil from the end of the 19th century to the start of the Second World War to work as cheap labour, and he still holds an Italian passport. In November 2002, after his World Cup triumph, Scolari visited the Venetian village of Cologna Veneta where his ancestors lived - and some Scolaris still thrive - and was made an honorary citizen.

Throughout his travels, which have also included posts in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Japan, Scolari's pragmatism has been a constant. Brazilians no longer drool about the beautiful game, particularly now that so many of their players are based in Europe. A year after helping his country to a fifth global title with such stellar talents as Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, World Soccer pressed him about Portugal's penchant for playing attractively yet without penetration. "I prefer to play ugly and win," was his reply. No wonder the magazine's editor, Gavin Hamilton, dubbed him "the Brazilian Sam Allardyce" on radio yesterday.

The outlook has its roots in his days as a rugged centre-back (à la Allardyce) with Caxias in the Rio Grande do Sul region. Like many of his contemporaries, including Jose Mourinho, Rafael Benitez and Eriksson, once it became clear Scolari was not going to excel as a player, he channelled his energies into studying tactics, formations and the mental side of sport. (Intriguingly, given the bad press Glenn Hoddle received over Eileen Drewery, he credits Portugal's revival in part to a female sports psychologist called Regina Brandao.)

Given his break by Criciuma of Santa Catarina, he took the Second Division side to the Brazilian Cup in 1991. He repeated the feat at Gremio, adding the national title and Libertadores Cup - South America's version of the Champions' League - which he also won with Palmeiras, making him the only coach to win it with two clubs.

Big Phil's big break came in 2001. Brazil had been humbled by Australia in a third-place play-off, prompting the Brazilian FA to sack Emerson Leao in Tokyo airport. Scolari became the country's fourth coach in nine months, starting with an even more ignominious defeat in the Copa America by Honduras.

Barely a year later, after the new coach had restored order to a chaotic qualifying campaign, Brazil were breezing past Germany in the World Cup final. Showing flexibility and boldness, he switched from their long-established 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 on the grounds that it suited the personnel available. His critics, who argued that he was betraying the Brazilian game with a defensive style, included Pele.

In a withering attack, Scolari said of the great Brazilian No 10: "He knows nothing about football. He has done nothing as a coach and his analysis always turns out to be wrong. If you want to win a title, you must listen to Pele. And then do the opposite."

Scolari had insisted he would see Brazil through his "mission" before leaving in pursuit of a "fresh challenge" after the finals. His parting shot was that Belgium, not England or Germany, had been their most difficult opponents. Working in Europe, where successful Brazilian coaches had been scarce, was appealing. He chose Portugal ahead of Mexico.

There, he saw himself as fusing two cultures and traditions. The Portuguese began to do more of the "technical training"; ie, work with the ball. In turn, he acknowledged he had learnt something about "organising teams". Expounding his philosophy before Euro 2004 he claimed he was "not too scientific", preferring to "keep it simple". But he also stressed that he always ensured he knew "everything about our opponents".

On his bent for rule-bending, he said: "I am what I am. I'm not a hypocrite. Every coach does this, every match, but they have little ways of avoiding saying so when a microphone is under their noses." Scolari talked, too, of how he liked to be "a friend to his players". The South American way, he said, was for them to be "happy and joking" and have "music on the bus".

One match into the European finals, he was facing the music. Portugal, the host nation, lost 2-1 to Greece. Scolari reacted by ditching three of his back four and Rui Costa, one of the "golden generation". They reached the final, and en route beat England (on penalties), when, in contrast with Eriksson's conservative use of substitutes, he hauled off the national icon Luis Figo and was rewarded when his replacement, Helder Postiga, scored.

Sir Alex Ferguson hailed Portugal's displays against England, Spain and the Netherlands as "the best of the tournament". Sadly for Scolari, whose more controlled touchline demeanour demonstrated that his wilder days might be behind him, they had insufficient creativity and energy left to stop a defence-minded Greece taking the final.

Scolari will want to bring his own coaches. Spurning Barcelona before taking over Brazil, he declared that he would not accept "50 trucks full of cash if they don't let me bring my own staff". If such asides are to have their full impact, he will need to improve his English.

When Scolari was banished to the stands in the aforementioned game between Brazil and Paraguay, he hid on the stairs to the dressing-rooms. Only his head was visible, and he ducked like a naughty schoolboy whenever the officials looked in his direction. England supporters, weary of a head coach with a reputation for a different kind of ducking and diving, will welcome the change to a more colourful character.

The world of football according to Scolari

'This is war, and I have to kill and not be killed.'

On football at the highest level

'If someone talks about my private life, I'll give them a good punching. I'm not interested in suing. I like to sort things out my way.'

After one of his players at Palmeiras was abused by fans over his private life

'You play with joy when you get the right result. How can you play with joy if you lose? If we have to play ugly to reach the objective, we will play ugly. What's the point of a Cup? To be champions.'

Before the 2002 World Cup

'Well, one's white and the other's black.'

Asked by English journalists to compare Wayne Rooney to Pele during Euro 2004

'We make everything enjoyable, and that's what football's all about - having fun.'

On being Brazilian

The Scolari trophy cabinet

1991 Criciuma Brazilian Cup and state title

1993 Gremio Brazilian Cup

1995 Gremio Copa Libertadores

1996 Gremio National championship

1998 Palmeiras Brazilian Cup

1999 Palmeiras Copa Libertadores

2002 Brazil World Cup winners