Never mind a drop of red after the game – a custom he said he would honour – Luiz Felipe Scolari yesterday delivered the kind of comment that would have had Sir Alex Ferguson seeing red. "Maybe next season, Cristiano is with me. Very good. If he wants a change, I'll open the door to that," Scolari said.
The Chelsea manager likes a joke. Indeed his comic touch has made almost as big an impact at Stamford Bridge as his football. But it was also the kind of remark that would have provided a sense of humour blow-out at Manchester United given the summer-long, messy transfer saga involving Cristiano Ronaldo going to Real Madrid. Ronaldo to the Bridge? Don't laugh about it.
As much as Scolari was joking, he would certainly love to see the player he nurtured with the Portugal national team, and who he refers to "like a son", wearing Chelsea blue if that were to ever be possible. So would Roman Abramovich, so would Jose Mourinho when he was Chelsea manager and there has always been the intrigue of past and present manager and player sharing the same agent: Jorge Mendes. But if Ronaldo were to leave United, he would also have to leave these shores.
Ferguson will laugh off Scolari's cheek but will also be irritated – which was probably the Brazilian's intention all along, even if he also added a generous rider towards the Scot. "The players respect him, like him as a coach and as a father, a friend," he said.
Scolari expects Ronaldo to play for United tomorrow, despite having only just recovered from ankle surgery, in what is set to be one of the season's defining matches. "I don't know what position he will play, but he'll play," Scolari said emphatically of his protégé. "He'll start. I know him." Indeed he does. The bond between the two is strong. "When I arrived in Portugal Ronaldo was a kid," Scolari said. "A young boy. Seventeen years old. At that time, he had a good character. He's improved himself, very well, since. More in Manchester than the national team.
"I've seen him improve. I can see him as a captain of Portugal because people like him and he has the confidence for that. He's a very good man, helps the other players, a good attitude on and off the pitch. Ronaldo, I don't know if the word is correct, has grown up, matured."
United supporters may beg to differ on that last comment given Ronaldo's behaviour over the summer, although Scolari distanced himself from suggestions that he may have contributed to unsettling the 23-year-old. "This is a question for Ronaldo, Manchester and Real Madrid," he said. "Sir Alex didn't call me. It's not my problem."
Now Scolari believes Ronaldo is one of the "three best players in the world". The other two he declined to name – saying he would have to think about it – but he again boosted his own squad by saying that, when he had a vote for the World Player of the Year, along with other national coaches, he had included, for three years running, Chelsea players. "One year I chose Didier [Drogba] as one of the three," he said. "Another year, I wrote [John] Terry. Another year I wrote [Frank] Lampard. Now these three players are with me, and that's very good for me."
Even so, Chelsea are a work in progress. An impressive start to the season came with a heavy qualification last Tuesday after the 4-0 thumping of Bordeaux in the Champions League. Scolari was not happy with the football he saw and revealed that he had to stop yesterday's training session after 10 minutes because his players "made the same mistakes" as they did against the French side. "I stopped training," he said. "I want this, this and this. Against United, why is 10-0 better than winning 1-0? We need to keep the ball, stay in position. But I need to understand that I have some players who aren't ready. I need to ask the fans to give me time, for me to improve some players more."
If that is not quite the "Blue Brazil" rallying cry that came at the start of the season, it is an expected reality check from the pragmatic Scolari. He wants – and has been charged with delivering – attractive football but not in a trade off with results. Especially not with United at the Bridge tomorrow – and not as a win for Chelsea would open up a nine-point gap over the Champions.
"The challenge for Chelsea is to win all the competitions in which we participate," Scolari said. "This is one more game. Nothing different." So there is no added significance at all, then? "Three points against United are the same three points as against Stoke City, Wigan or Portsmouth. The same," he added. It wasn't – unlike the Ronaldo comment – said with a grin but no one was fooled.Reuse content