Big Phil arrives: 'Chelsea gamble on my ability. I am not afraid'

His best friend is Capello, he loves Ferguson, he makes us laugh. But will Scolari be Roman's special one? By Nick Townsend
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The Independent Football

It is, by any judgement, a bravura performance. For close on two-and-half hours, he manipulates his different audiences majestically. All gestures and winks, like a favourite uncle teasing his nephews and nieces, Luiz Felipe Scolari does his best to convince us that whatever his fate, and Chelsea's under him, it will be a fascinating journey on which to accompany him.

You could not help but feel this was Mourinho Major. His Chelsea predecessor-but-one (sadly, despite Chelsea's proximity to a domestic/European double last season, the stub-bornly mournful Avram Grant is destined to be the forgotten link in the club's genealogy) smouldered, secure in his allure and success on the field, if at times too clever by half. Nowwe were confronted by Scolari, magnificently expressive and potentially even more volatile.

The Brazilian, who arrived with a Chelsea shirt with Scolari printed on it, is mischievously asked about what number it should bear. He shrugs, apparently intent on avoiding the declaration of himself as No 1, and drifts off tangentially to speak of roulette. "If I play, my numbers are 7, 11 and 17," he says. Scolari points towards himself and declares: "And I win."

It is a theme which he warms to when asked whether he would consider himself a failure if he could not deliver the Champions' League so desperately sought by Roman Abramovich. "Chelsea gamble on my ability. I believe in myself." Did he fear the sack if he failed to deliver? "I am not afraid about my job. Throughout the world, coaches need to win competitions. At Manchester United, Arsenal, any place. Not only at Chelsea."

Yet through it all, one sensed that even this World Cup winner with Brazil is apprehensive about just what environment he has entered. As his goalkeeper, Petr Cech, had warned earlier in the week: "Welcome to the hardest job in football." During Scolari's introduction to TV, radio and newspapers, it is the final question of all that perhaps elicits the most telling response.

"I was a bit scared with the enormity [presumably meaning vast, not wicked] of it all," he says of his arrival at Chelsea's Cobham training complex. Though he had earlier dismissed the scrutiny he would be placed under, suggesting it could be no worse than when he was coaching Brazil, he is already acutely aware that his entire being will be examined under a magnifying glass of Holmesian intensity. Earlier, the Chelsea suits had hardly been able to contain their conceit at the acquisition of such a status symbol; one who, in contrast to the last incumbent, possesses an aura which immediately commands respect. Whether he is what the club require to hone them into the team that can overcome Manchester United is a rather more complex issue. His problem will not be coaching the players he has inherited, once the dust and contractural issues have been settled over personnel including Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, but combatting possible interference from above.

He is asked about his meetings with Abramovich. "He says to me he wants Chelsea as a team, as a group. He wants Chelsea to play well, beautiful, and win," is Scolari's précis of events. "I say, 'Yes, I want the same. I agree with you'." Scolari emphasises: "He did not say, 'This player good, this player not'. He asked me what I thought about this player, or that player, and, 'Do you think we have some young players in the academy that have the condition to play in your group?' I tell him, 'If they have the quality, yes.' He said, 'You are afraid to put in young players?' I say, 'No. In my history I put in many young players'."

There are many comparisons between Scolari and Sir Alex Ferguson. The Brazilian regards the Scot with due reverence. "I respect him a lot. Not only because he is the Manchester United coach, but because of what he has made of his life.

"I respect other coaches, but the history of Ferguson is different from other coaches who are starting now. I hope I have the same vitality he has got at his age. He has strength and power and passion for football. He is fantastic."

And your management style perhaps resembles Ferguson's? "Maybe the same," he concurs. Scolari is told about the Fergie "hairdryer" treatment. You can be frightening, too, like him? "Sometimes. I think I have some similarities to Ferguson. But [Cristiano] Ronaldo says to me that he is like a father, maybe a grandfather, and I am the same."

Scolari arrives with a reputation here enhanced by his record against England, as Brazil coach, then when in charge of Portugal. It presumably offers the Brazilian a unique insight into England's international failings. Would he attribute it to poor technique? The wrong psychology? "They have a good technique. They have a good mentality," he insists. "But don'tforget, other national teams have very good players. You are here and say, 'England is the best', but in Brazil they say, 'Brazil is the best'. In Argentina they say, 'Argentina is the best'. Sometimes you [England] lose one game by penalties, or by a ball against the bar, and for the other side, the ball is in the goal. I am not working with these players, but Ihope, and wish now, the bestfor England's national team, because I wish the best for [Fabio] Capello. He is my best friend."

The Brazilian elaborates: "He [Capello] say to me many things when I was coach in Brazil. He is Italian and I am Brazilian, but why I like him so much is because he gives to me confidence at a time when I needed it. One time, with Brazil, I startedto play three full [centre] backs. In Brazil, they wanted to kill me because this is not normal in Brazil. One time, I meet Capelloin Roma, where I was watching a game. Cafu played there, Emerson played there. And Capello said to me, 'Follow your ideas'. I say, 'Capello, they want to kill me'. He says, 'No problem. Follow your ideas'.

"Another time, he said to me, 'Felipe, don't bring this player. He is not in good condition'. But I did not respect his opinion, and I bring him. And what happened? We played, and we lost, and who made the mistake? The man he had said. And I said, 'OK, Capello.Now I follow you'."

He volunteers all that. He clearly enjoys demonstrating his grasp of English, though, despite a translator being present, there are occasional gaffes. Such as when he was asked what he expected to find when he arrived. "I think that my players may be tired, thinking about their holidays and are not happy to start to train. They had a long holiday because England did not go to European Championships and they have got out of the routine of working every day." He covershis face in mock horror. "But they arrive yesterday [Monday] and are fresh, happy, excited. I saw between the players friendship. It was a good atmosphere. I thought, 'This is fantastic forme.' After this, I know what is happening in the bedroom."

Huge laughter ensues. His bemused features turn to a broad smile. "Ah, bedroom... I mean dressing room."

He is certainly capable of leaving them laughing. The somewhat more daunting question is whether he can leave Chelsea as champions of England,and Europe.

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