Relaxed Scolari reveals he was a scrap of paper away from managing England

The Brazilian was ready to sign a pre-contract in 2006 but the FA failed to reach agreement, writes Jason Burt

Sunday 23 October 2011 05:03

Sitting at the head of a vast beech table, Luiz Felipe Scolari delayed the briefing. He wanted to arrange the dictaphones and tape recorders that had been strewn in front of him by reporters into a perfect semi-circle. All 16 of them. Order, symmetry, organisation. It is what he and the "familia Scolari", as he likes to refer to those around him, including the players he coaches, is all about. "Be decent, be correct, be rightful," he said by way of explaining his creed. It is why, Scolari explained, he did not become the England manager two years ago – despite being willing to sign a pre-contract agreement with the Football Association before the last World Cup.

He dropped that bombshell right at the start, claiming he had told the FA he was perfectly happy to agree to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson, and sign a piece of paper to that effect, but would not finalise a full contract because Portugal could – and did – face England in the competition. That would not have been correct. "If they had agreed to sign a pre-contract before the competition and then after the competition, or when one of the national teams goes out, we could say 'OK, I am the coach of England'. But they didn't agree." The FA, as ever, blamed the media and Scolari acknowledged that fears that he would face intrusion had also influenced his decision. Now he feels better equipped, he is finally here.

Chelsea will hope that England's loss is their gain, of course. However, in some quarters close to Scolari, and certainly from those who have known him in his final years as Portugal's coach, they are questioning whether he has moved to the Premier League for the right reasons. The new manager is 60 in November and this job, maybe, despite his protestations, the biggest of his career, could well also be the last. Money is clearly a motivation, too, given the size of the contract he has agreed but he was refuting all such arguments yesterday.

"I am a fighter," Scolari said. "Until now I am a man who everything I have fought for and everything I have tried to achieve has been difficult. But I get there. And my team will be the same. Maybe this season we will have many difficulties but we will arrive for sure. I am determined."

His record backs up such chutzpah, even if he has, at times, taken that fighting man tag to its extremes which has included fisticuffs with his own players and the opposition, and more than the odd argument with referees and opposition coaches. "They are normal situations," Scolari shrugged. Are his fighting days over? "Yes, yes, yes... well maybe," he added.

His humour will serve him well, as will his enthusiasm for his new post. But Scolari is daunted, too. He talked of having had "20 books" thrown at him in the last few days, all about Chelsea, of a sea of information which is he is trying to swim through, of trying to find somewhere to live – and struggling with a new language.

Scolari has surrounded himself with those he knows, bringing his familiar backroom staff with him and also retaining Steve Clarke as assistant manager. It seems there will also be a role for Regina Brandao, the female sports psychologist who is regarded as a major factor in fostering the close family-like relationship he has with his players.

"When Regina is free I will invite her to come here and talk," he said. She may also be able to give him pointers as to how to deal with Roman Abramovich. However, he had a clear line yesterday on any potential interference. "I have respect for him [Abramovich] and he has respect for me," Scolari said. "This is normal. When we discuss Chelsea and about players, it's normal for me. Normal talking. This players plays more left, more right, more in front, in back – it's normal. I don't think any coach in Chelsea has a problem with Roman."

Jose Mourinho and – to an extent – Avram Grant may raise an eyebrow to that one, although Scolari declared he had not sought out his Portuguese predecessor to canvas his thoughts. Maybe that is partly because relations between the pair have never been great. Still, he bridled at suggestions that Abramovich may impose players upon him. "I cannot envisage that sort of situation will arise," he said. "It has never happened before in my career. I will always expect to be consulted about a player. I have never heard of a coach in the world being put in that position and if they say it happened then I do not believe it. When I want a player I give them three options. I will control the squad."

Abramovich wants that – discipline is important for him – but he also wants good football. Scolari agreed that he had once declared that the jogo bonito was dead but added: "We'll try and play beautiful football. But, sometimes, if you want to win, you don't play beautiful. Sure I want both but sometimes it's impossible." Mourinho would have curled his lip at that one but there was something the pair agreed on. "I know that he likes Chelsea a lot," Scolari said of the man he needs to emulate. "And I understand why. I have been here three days and I love Chelsea, too." How that love affair endures, we will soon see.

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