Chelsea yesterday responded angrily to suggestions they had derailed Portugal's efforts at Euro 2008 by announcing Luiz Felipe Scolari's appointment as their new manager. In light of bitter complaints from the Portuguese Football Federation president, Gilberto Madail, Chelsea were again forced to defend their behaviour.
The club released a statement defending their decision to announce, during the group stages in Austria and Switzerland, Scolari's intention to sign as Chelsea manager on 1 July. Madail had said earlier in the day that "the timing of the decision showed a lack of respect" by the club. The FPF president said his governing body had been outbid by Chelsea but that it was shocked that the announcement was made after Portugal's second group game, against the Czech Republic.
Chelsea said that they had behaved "above board and correctly". The statement added: "It was the appropriate time for both parties to announce and it had been agreed in advance. The FPF were informed."
Scolari has come under increasing pressure in Portugal to explain the timing of his decision, after his team went out of Euro 2008 thanks to a 3-2 loss to Germany in Basle on Thursday night.
The root of the problem surrounding the announcement was that it was done in such secrecy and that many of those around the Brazilian coach were caught on the hop. Even his agent, Gilmar Veloz, was sidelined in the deal. Suspicions grew that it had been agreed when Roman Abramovich appeared in Geneva on the day of the game against the Czechs. By then the Chelsea owner had done the deal with the Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes, who represents Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The decision appeared to undermine Madail, who had said before the tournament that no deal would be announced until Portugal had finished at Euro 2008. Yesterday the FPF president went on the attack, aware that his hold on power at the federation is slipping. That hold has, in the recent past, been largely dependent on the reflected glory from Scolari's efforts. "The moment Chelsea took to announce the contract with Mr Scolari was not for us very correct," Madail said. "Maybe they could have informed us first.
"The timing of the decision showed a lack of respect. I knew when we entered the tournament that Scolari would leave. We respected his wishes. His cycle with Portugal had ended because he wanted a new experience with a club. There was nothing we could do. It was a financial issue and we couldn't match Chelsea's offer."
There had been attempts made by the FPF, who contacted sponsors such as Nike and Caixa Bank, to put together a fighting fund to raise Scolari's salary but it was never likely to touch the £6.25m, three-year deal offered by Chelsea. The 59-year-old declined to make himself available yesterday to speak about Portugal's defeat but he maintained on Thursday night that his decision to go to Chelsea was not a key factor in his team's elimination.
The Manchester United assistant, Carlos Queiroz, is a strong candidate to succeed Scolari, although the possibility that he may eventually succeed Sir Alex Ferguson should keep him at Old Trafford.
"Whether some like it or not, he [Scolari] left a mark in Portuguese football," Madail said. "He is a spectacular coach who made a huge impact and that will remain in the history of Portugal. But life continues. [His successor] will have to speak Portuguese but not necessarily be Portuguese."
Chelsea have begun a clear-out ahead of Scolari's arrival on 7 July. Talks with Portsmouth over Shaun Wright-Phillips are under way. Steve Sidwell will join Aston Villa and Didier Drogba has been told he can leave. Frank Lampard's contract saga drags on, the player eager to sign until 2013 rather than 2011. That will be Scolari's first test.