James Lawton: Big Phil will leave no one in doubt who is in charge
Thursday 12 June 2008
There is one major point to be made in favour of Luiz Felipe Scolari as manager of Chelsea – as there was when he came into the running as England's coach at the fall of Sven Goran Eriksson.
It is that he is not for nothing known as Big Phil.
He is perhaps not the wisest or most self-controlled of football's top echelon coaches – as recently as last September he was eager to punch out a Serbian player after a fractious qualifying game – but the coach of Portugal, and World Cup winner with Brazil, has passed all the tests in the vital matter of controlling a team – and leaving nobody in no doubt who is in charge of all aspects of the operation of a team.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and his chief gofer Peter Kenyon have made free with the pride and the dignity of all three managers in the era of the oligarch.
It was Kenyon, if you remember, who advised the first victim, Claudio Ranieri, that it wouldn't be enough to eventually shoulder the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsène Wenger out of pole position in the Premiership. His team also had to win by scores of 5-0, with at least one of the goals coming ideally, from a distance of around 30 yards.
Hugely entertaining, for anyone who has had any contact at all with Scolari, is a picture of Kenyon, perhaps wearing the medal he so proudly collected in the eyes of a vast audience last month in Moscow, offering the same working instructions to Scolari.
In the end even the Special One, Jose Mourinho, felt the stabbingt knife of humiliation after annexing English football power in his first two years.
And what can we say of the regime of his successor Avram Grant? Only that it could not have been founded in less satisfactory circumstances – or less in sync with the classic running of a successful club. Grant was injected into Mourinho's regime in a way which would not have been countenanced by Ferguson or Wenger for more than the time it takes to say goodbye. When Grant emerged with the prize of Mourinho's office, and proceeded to chase Manchester United to the line in both the Premiership and Champions League, his rewarded was to treated with no more respect than an office boy, a retainer who was required to doff his cap not just to the man who paid his wages but, at times, it seemed, to both the players and the fans.
That kind of situation would be tolerated by Scolari for just as long as it took him to make new arrangements.
This might sound a somewhat peripheral to the effectiveness of Scolari as the new manager of Chelsea but, of course, it is utterly central to his prospects.
He has, you can be sure, made it clear that if he will manage the club in his own way, and with his own reputation in mind, rather than the whims of the executive office. This is how Ferguson started off at Old Trafford, and survived some lean days, and how Wenger has consistently made it clear is the only reason he stays at Arsenal in the face of a hundred options across the football world.
Scolari understands that the strong men win in football and he is perhaps entitled to believe that his credentials in that matter are beyond any critical examination. The most passionate and inflamed football nation in the world, his native Brazil, bayed for his head when he defied their yearnings for the return of the great hero Romario. Scolari said the folk hero simply didn't figure in his plans.
Among the threats and the burning effigies was the threat of a public lynching. Scolari shrugged his shoulders and said he would go his own way. The result was Brazil's first World Cup win in eight years. Whether he has the patience for the day to day operation of a major European Club nearly a decade after he walked away from the domestic Brazilian game is one legitimate question. But while we are finding out that answer, there will not be enquiries about his nerve or his pride. Maybe for the first time in time of Abramovich, Chelsea have a manager who truly walks the walk as well as talks the talk.
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