As the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup drew to a close Sunday night in the famous Maracana, Luiz Felipe Scolari raged. He ranted and gesticulated, looking more like a wildly animated cartoon character than the coach who had just masterminded the shellacking of a Spanish team that is arguably the best footballing side ever assembled.
Scolari’s hysterics and histrionics seemed out of place. Brazil won the Confederations Cup with a marvelous zeal and panache, winning all five games they played in the tournament – the destruction of Spain a stunning final exclamation point.
Spain was humiliated. The Brazilian’s came with so much fire and passion from the national anthem to the final whistle. They almost matched their coach in competitive fire. It’s hard to think back to a month ago when Brazil was a wounded animal, a shell of their five-star selves ranked number 22 in the world.
When Mano Menezes was sacked on November 23, 2012, Brazil were as directionless as a national team can be. After a disastrous 2011 Copa America, and failure in the London Olympics against Mexico, Menezes’ time was up, and the man to replace him and lead Brazil into the Confederations and World Cup was always Scolari.
After all, in his last spell, Scolari entered as manager of Brazil in almost identical circumstances. In June 2001, Brazil were struggling and in danger of not qualifying for the 2002 World Cup. Emerson Leao, who had a 4-4-3 record as manager of Brazil was sacked, and Scolari, who had been managing Cruzeiro in the Brazilian League, was installed.
Scolari was a bold choice. Coming into 2002, Scolari only had six months of international management experience with Kuwait – his reign cut short by the Gulf War. Scolari eventually guided Brazil into the World Cup, although his reign started with a 1-0 loss to Uruguay. But Brazil were as unfancied in ’02 as they had been going into a World Cup in recent memory.
In 2002, Scolari left Brazilian legend Romario off his World Cup roster, and selected a team mixed with steel and sizzle – but certainly not the pretty-playing sides Brazil were used to. Scolari was lambasted in the Brazilian media, right up to the point that Brazil won the tournament.
Ten years later, Scolari entered the Brazilian camp with the national team facing many of the problems they had in 2002. Under Menezes, Brazil didn’t have any particular playing style, and no balance between old blood and new blood. Stuck in between two generations, and stuck with underperforming stars, Menezes was out of answers as his team played disjointed, disheartening football.
Scolari was the man to fix what ailed Brazil. In each job he has had, Scolari has been a fierce manager – he figures out who he wants in his team, who he wants to center his team around, and religiously sticks by his men. Reputations and records don’t matter to Scolari, who dominates his sides with his large and loud personality.
It took time for Big Phil to figure out how he wanted to mold Brazil. Like in ’02, Scolari’s reign started slowly. In fact, Brazil only won once in Scolari’s first six games in charge. The turning point may have been a press conference Scolari gave after his team slumped to a 2-2 draw against Chile.
Scolari was asked whether he was ready to resign. In response, Scolari stormed out of the press conference. It was classic Big Phil – incredibly sure of himself, incredibly entertaining, and incredibly effective. The message was sent loud and clear: For lack of more elegant terminology, Scolari just doesn’t give a rip.
One look at the names Scolari left off his Confederations Cup team would confirm that. No Ronaldinho and no Kaka is one thing, but no Ramires? No Rafael da Silva? No Pato or Ganso? Scolari picked Fred out of the international wilderness, and kept faith in him as the striker up top.
Fred fits into Scolari’s plan, which centers around Neymar. Scolari has always had faith in the starlet, and he delivered at the Confederations Cup. Scolari recalled goalkeeper Julio Cesar, realizing he didn’t have a better option in net, while Scolari finally put together a sensible back-line and named a captain. He established Paulinho as a star, and stayed consistent and true to his team even through adversity. The side that started Brazil’s first game of the cup against Japan was the same team that started the final against Spain.
Scolari’s touchline antics are wonderful to watch. Wearing a sweatsuit instead of a regular suit, Scolari jumps and screams and searches for perfection, even as his team led 3-0 in the biggest game of his career since 2006. Scolari out-coached the vaunted Vincente del Bosque. And it wasn’t close.
Because Scolari only ventured into Europe once, six ill-fated months at Chelsea, he is often overlooked as what he is: One of the best international managers of all-time. Because of his brash personality, Scolari is better suited to the national game than the club game, and it has shown his entire career.
Scolari’s team makeup is once again a perfect blend of steel and sizzle, and Brazil are back with a bang. They have a team again, and that’s all thanks to their manager.
Of course, Brazil may not win the World Cup next summer. They most likely won’t even be favorites going in. But they very well may be the most feared team in the tournament. In a time of turbulence in Brazil, the Selecao’s victory against Spain was a fantastic moment for the country. Scolari turned Brazil around in half a year. With another year until the World Cup, it would be foolish to bet against Big Phil.
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