Why Scolari couldn’t save The Damned Chelsea

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Theory 1: Scolari was the New Clough

Roughly seven weeks from now, The Damned United will open in cinemas up and down the country.

Adapted from David Peace’s darkly brilliant novel imagining Brian Clough’s torrid 44-day reign at Leeds United, it’s entertaining enough – when was Old Big ’Ead not? – but lighter and fluffier than the book, so not in the same league.

Watching it a few weeks ago, though, a thought did cross FourFourTwo’s mind – a thought that came crashing back in with the summary dismissal of Luiz Felipe Scolari on Monday afternoon.

And that thought is this – that in 2009, Scolari is playing the part of Brian Clough, damned in his doomed attempt to follow a club legend (Mourinho/Revie) who had become a cult at the club after guiding it to unheard of success.

There’s flimsy circumstantial evidence to back up the theory. Just as Cloughie kept on raiding his Derby team for reinforcements, so Scolari seemed intent on signing every Portugal player he could get his hands on. And without the transfer restrictions, who could say for sure that Helder Postiga and Nuno Gomes wouldn’t have joined Deco, Bosingwa and Quaresma at Stamford Bridge?

But there are also louder whispers, echoes from history, backed up by FourFourTwo’s sources close to the Blues.

Admittedly the Brazilian didn’t walk into the dressing room on his first morning at the club and call JT and Lamps "cheating b******s". As the results become a millstone, he didn't set fire to the furniture. But nor did he walk in with a Don Revie-style dossier on the opposition. And that, it seems, was the root of his problem.

That gap's only gonna get wider...

Because while Chelsea’s results have undoubtedly been getting poorer as the season has gone on, that’s merely a symptom of a deeper problem: that the players have failed to adjust to Scolari’s laid-back approach.

Under Jose Mourinho, Chelsea’s egotistical superstars didn’t have to think, and footballers – especially English footballers, sadly – rather like that state of affairs. Witness Fabio Capello’s reinvigoration of England with a few strict rules like "no ketchup". Under Scolari, they were given the freedom to think. And look what happened.

With Jose – like Revie – everything was planned with military precision (think of a really good army here. Not for example, San Marino). Every player knew exactly what he was – and wasn’t – supposed to do. He’d been told how his opponent would play, what to look out for, how to deal with him. If he did it, fine. If he didn’t, he’d be substituted/dropped/sold.

If a player got injured and another player came on, the team already knew how that would affect their shape and their tactics. It was a fool-proof system.

Under Scolari (like Clough), it was off the cuff. Training was more relaxed. Players could ‘express themselves’. Dossiers were those blokes down the dole office. It worked with Brazil, it worked with Portugal – it even worked in the short-term with Chelsea. For a while there, the players looked freer, happier, easier on the eye.

But in the end it bred too much uncertainty among a group of players who needed to know in minute detail what was required.And so Scolari failed at Chelsea, just as Clough failed at Leeds. His team scored more goals, but looked like ending up empty-handed.

Roman Abramovich’s next appointment might want to consider the old saying: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Theory 2: Fergie knows best

That’s one theory. Another, equally plausible explanation was given by Sir Alex Ferguson back when the season had just kicked off.

Leafing through a pre-season copy of the Racing Post, the normally mild-mannered Scot felt his blood begin to boil.

“Every analyst in there was tipping Chelsea for the title,” Ferguson recalled. “One guy wrote: ‘The reason is Scolari is in town.’ He said Scolari will not be intimidated by me. He suggested that Wenger, Mourinho and Avram Grant couldn’t ‘handle me’.

“The paper mentions me as having ‘had a go’ at Chelsea by saying that a team [with players] over 30 can’t win the league, which is absolute rubbish. I never said that. What I did say was that a team over 30 doesn’t improve a lot. But Chelsea, given their performance last season, don’t have to improve a lot to win it.

Scolari: If it stinks so bad...

“Then, the same writer argues that Scolari is a better manager than me. I’m not so arrogant as to believe that’s impossible. Scolari may be a better manager than I am. But how can a sensible writer say that about a guy who has never managed in England? If you look at Scolari’s CV, he has managed about 17 teams.”

Fergie had actually forgotten Brazil and Portugal. But between 1982 and 2001, Scolari had indeed coached 17 teams: (deep breath) CSA, Juventude, Brasil de Pelotas, Al-Shabab, Brasil de Pelotas, Juventude, Grêmio, Goiás, Al Qadisiya, Kuwait, Criciúma, Al-Ahli, Al Qadisiya, Grêmio, Júbilo Iwata, Palmeiras and Cruzeiro.

Yes, he won the World Cup. Yes, he reached the Euro 2004 final. But in the end – as was proved in Chelsea's possibly pivotal 3-0 capitulation at Old Trafford last month – he just wasn’t good enough.

---------------------------------------------- More to read...

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NEWS: Agent: No chance of Hiddink joining Chelsea

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