Scolari rises above the Blues

The days of big spending seem to be over, they are plagued by injuries and have had a bad week in the Champions League. But, far from being downhearted, the Chelsea manager is making bold predictions as his side prepare to take on Arsenal tomorrow, writes Jason Burt
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The Independent Online

Luiz Felipe Scolari is, according to the manager who is closest to him in the Premier League, an "extrovert", by which Arsène Wenger means, a lively character.

It also means that he is given to grand statements, sometimes not necessarily in seriousness, such as when he said, after the disconcerting draw away to Bordeaux earlier this week, that he might as well pack up and go back to Brazil if Chelsea don't qualify for the next stage of the Champions League.

"People don't understand when I am joking," Scolari complained yesterday as an unprompted precursor to his press briefing.

"It's my style. Don't think I'm not happy here in my mind. I'm very happy here in my mind and I want to stay two years [the length of his contract – although there is an option for a third season]."

Still, many a true word is, indeed, spoken in jest and failure to negotiate past the Romanians CFR Cluj next month would perhaps have Scolari wishing he had kept his mouth shut.

Failure to beat Arsenal tomorrow in the Premier League would not be so dramatic, although the low rumblings of discontent would raise a few notches, with Chelsea having, predictably perhaps, suffered a dip from the exhilarating highs they hit at the start of this campaign.

It would also mean, significantly, that having hosted the other three of the so-called big four at Stamford Bridge, and with them all to play away from home, Chelsea had failed to beat any of them. Although it wouldn't place Scolari in any danger, it might knock a little bit of time off the clock before he is under threat.

The Brazilian, a consummate politician, is all too aware of that – which is why he made another of his grand statements yesterday in an attempt to show not just why Chelsea have, relatively, struggled of late but the reasons for that. If they are still in the top two in the league come the new year, Scolari said boldly enough, then they will go on and win the title – and can look forward to lifting the European Cup as well.

"What I said to my players, one month ago," Scolari explained, "is that we need to arrive between 15 November [when Chelsea played West Bromwich away] until the last day of December in a very good situation.

"If I am in good condition in December, if I am first or second, I have the squad to play for the championships in all competitions because my start here was different than for other coaches. I have received many injuries. We'll be better in the second half of the season," he insisted.

Injuries have certainly bitten hard – the roll-call, and their problems, would probably take up the rest of this article with Joe Cole, again, the latest to struggle with his damaged ankle – but added to that has been some questionable dealings in the transfer market during the summer.

This was partly at Scolari's behest, given his intention to operate with a smaller squad than had been the case previously, although that strategy was damaged by the failure to land Robinho and the risky tactics Chelsea employed in eventually solely targeting the Brazilian, whose absence from their ranks is still a source of angst for their manager and anger for the club's owner, Roman Abramovich.

Scolari would love to address this in January. He has made clear to the Chelsea board that another attacking player is needed, and that won't be cheap. He's also made clear that he still wants Robinho, although that is turning into a distant hope, especially if Manchester City really can attract more expensive talent.

Indeed, Scolari again said yesterday that not only has he not been a manager who has spent a lot at Chelsea – following the big-spending days of his three predecessors under Abramovich – but he also hinted that he doesn't expect to either.

"Chelsea were a club that spent money three, four, five, six years before but not now. With me, no. I only spent money on Deco," he said, which again indicated the £16m deal to sign Jose Bosingwa was one that had been lined up the previous summer by Jose Mourinho.

It was also another confirmation of what Frank Arnesen, the club's chief scout who is on his way out of Chelsea having apparently failed to justify his £2m-a-year salary, called Abramovich applying the "financial brakes" at the club, given the current disastrous economic climate.

Furthermore, Abramovich has been wanting to reduce his spending, in any case, having realised that much of it has been wasted and his patronage abused by grasping agents.

He had hoped, by now, to see the fruits of the huge investment in the club's youth set-up, overseen by Arnesen, in the first team. It hasn't happened. "Chelsea are trying to learn, trying to work with young players," Scolari said. "If any coach had young players with quality, he would put them on the pitch. But you need quality." And, clearly, he feels, just as Mourinho did, that Chelsea haven't, which means Arnesen has failed to deliver.

There is a counter-argument that also has credence. Maybe, also, Scolari should be paying attention to the talent around him. Michael Mancienne, who was in the England squad against Germany, has little chance of playing for Chelsea at present. And the club had two others in the national Under-21 set-up – Jack Cork and Ryan Bertrand – both of whom, like Mancienne, are out on loan. Whether it is failure or reluctance, the situation has added to the strain on the senior players while further pressure has been applied by a resistance from Scolari to altering his tactics – and tactics is something that the Brazilian has never been said to be strong on. He relies on Darlan Schneider, his nephew and an important member of his backroom staff.

At times, it appears, Chelsea are too predictable in the way they play – an accusation that Scolari also faced when he was in charge of Portugal and Brazil – and the system they adopt.

However, he will argue, with some justification, that it's a result of not having a fit squad to choose from, with the absence of Didier Drogba, now suspended of course, and Michael Essien biting particularly hard. If it has led to a sense of unease around Chelsea then, for once, given the tribulations of Claudio Ranieri, Mourinho and Avram Grant, there is certainly no unhappiness with Scolari from Abramovich and the club's hierarchy.

The Russian billionaire remains delighted with his choice and accepts the reasons why things are not running as smoothly.

He is also, still, enjoying watching the football the team now play and the lack of tension around the club. But, as others have discovered, that can change quickly enough especially if, tomorrow, Arsenal turn on the style, a style Abramovich remains envious of, and take the points.

Friends: The Arsène connection

The friendship between Luiz Felipe Scolari and Arsène Wenger may appear to be one of the more unlikely in world football but it has flourished since the two met while coaching in Japan 11 years ago. Scolari had a brief 11-match spell in charge of Jubilo Iwata – "He didn't stay long. I don't think he liked the sushi," Wenger said, while the Frenchman was at Grampus Eight for 18 months prior to joining Arsenal.

The two men stayed in touch, with Scolari often visiting Arsenal's training ground. He also went to Wenger's home in north London two years ago for dinner after watching an Arsenal match. "We spoke about football and what I think about my team and about Arsenal," Scolari said. "We are big friends. If I chose five coaches in the world as the best, he'd be one of the five."

It's thought Wenger was one of those who recommended Scolari for the England job before the last World Cup. "Our personalities are different – I was born in Brazil, him in France. But we have the same ideas about football," Scolari said.

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