James Lawton: Hell hath no fury like England scorned, but Scolari's rejection does not make him a cheat

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The Independent Online

There were two ways for England to react to the pitiful performance of its team in the 18th World Cup.

One was for the players, the public and the Football Association to take a look at themselves and perhaps benefit from a rare bout of self-examination. The other was to brand as a cheat Luiz Felipe Scolari, the man who had the temerity to turn down the mother country of football - and then beat them for a third straight time.

For not much longer than a nanosecond did we have to make the no-brainer guess on which option would be taken. Big Phil, everyone now seems to be saying, is not one of the most remarkably successful coaches working today. He is a peddler of foul practice - one we were lucky to miss.

His star Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo - the best talent on the field in this week's semi-final when the great French trio of Zidane, Henry and Vieira, for practical purposes, might have taken the night off - is booed every time he touches the ball by the English fans who went to Munich with the risible idea that Wayne Rooney is a martyr. Furthermore, Scolari's Portugal hold the ultimate franchise on diving and cynical manipulation of referees.

If all this didn't say such tragic things about the English football psyche, if it didn't reveal double standards of breathtaking proportions, it would be a matter for uncontrollable laughter. But it would be mirth locked in the darkest of self-deception.

There is no doubt that against France on Wednesday night Ronaldo punctuated an otherwise impressive performance with a series of dives - most spectacularly when he sprawled in the penalty area when plainly not hindered by a French defender. So did some of his team-mates, and not least the returning playmaker Deco.

But did this truly reflect a cynical policy by Scolari, whose record in major tournaments is something English football could only dream about at the end of the Eriksson era? Did it make him, despite his four-year record of one World Cup win, one semi-final place, and one final appearance in the European Championship too dubious a character to be put into the place of Eriksson's big zero? Not in moral terms - the English tendency to judge others in a way that they would not want for themselves, has been rampant these last few days.

Is it, for example, not true that one of the most blatant dives in the current epidemic came shortly before the opening of this World Cup when the English hero Steven Gerrard won a penalty against Hungary without being touched? When Peter Crouch scored a potentially life-saving goal against Trinidad & Tobago, how many Englishmen were concerned that he had plainly yanked at the hair of a defender as he rose to head in the ball? But Crouch is an upright young Englishman, of course, and we needed his goal: how could he be a cheat?

This of course takes us to the malevolent heart of the anti-Scolari campaign. Everyone agrees that his most frequently diving player is Ronaldo. But then for whom does he play his football week-by-week? Not for Scolari but Sir Alex Ferguson. So Ronaldo doesn't regularly dive in English football? Who are kidding except ourselves?

Who committed the most outrageous piece of "simulation" in this World Cup? Few would argue that it was the generally hugely respected Thierry Henry, the creation of Arsène Wenger. Under whom did Deco, one of the most notorious divers in the game, develop his competitive edge? Jose Mourinho, the master of Stamford Bridge.

But then there is a wider charge against Scolari. It is that cheating is a systematic part of his approach to winning football. His players dive as a matter of course, unlike Michael Owen, Rooney, Joe Cole and Gerrard. When Crouch fouled to win, and Gerrard dived to gain a penalty, did Eriksson issue a pained disclaimer about the methods of his players? How did the endlessly lauded Wenger react when Robert Pires committed what some pros believe was the most flagrant dive of them all when he went out of his way to collide with a Portsmouth defender? He said it was a matter for the referee.

No doubt there are reasons to believe that Scolari and England could well have ended in tears. A winner, and certainly ruthless, self-obsessed operator, he would have had a permanently smoking hairdryer directed at some of our marquee players and their mores. The "WAGS" would haven't made it to the airport executive suite. He wouldn't have toed the FA diplomatic line for more than a week. But would he have ruined the "golden generation" in the way that Eriksson did with his serial sins of omission? Would he have frittered away the best of Owen and Gerrard and the prime youth of Rooney? Would he have picked Theo Walcott - or uttered not a murmur of public protest had he been Eriksson's assistant, Steve McClaren, who now takes over the moribund empire?

Really, these are questions we should not need to ask. We know the answers. One Brazilian close to the current national squad offered a fairly equivocal view of his countryman last week. He said that Scolari was a disturber, a fanatic, someone who saw everything from his own perspective - and also a man who because of his nature was probably a better coach in the short, intense burst of a major tournament than over the years of preparation.

Scolari feeds off his available diet. No doubt he would not have been England's best choice. Belatedly, the view has hardened that it would have been, by a mile, the brilliant Guus Hiddink.

But this surely doesn't justify the demonising of Scolari. Briefing against him, as the FA has been so keen to do ever since he turned it down in the most embarrassing of circumstances, is simply another example of the English failure to face the world as it is, rather than how they would like it to be.

Scolari isn't perfect - who is in 21st-century football? It means that in our frustration we can assail Big Phil however much we like, but it will not alter the poverty - and far from unflawed morality - of our own game. There is another problem: what will be left to say at the coming of the Antichrist?

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