Scolari confronted with toughest challenge (cont.)
At Chelsea, he has first-team players from England, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Germany, France, Serbia, Italy, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Brazil and Argentina. There's nothing in South American soccer or society to prepare him for such cosmopolitan diversity.
In Brazilian soccer, Scolari worked with a couple of Paraguayans, the odd Colombian and Argentine. And locally, they were all referred to as "gringos," the catch-all word that Brazilians use for all foreigners, whatever their origin. It's a word that negates the very type of diversity Scolari is trying to deal with.
It's clear Scolari is having problems forging a relationship with one of the most important members of the squad he inherited. In his recent book on soccer tactics, Jonathan Wilson rates Didier Drogba among "the truly great modern forwards [who] are both target-man and quick-man, battering-rams and goal-scorers, imposing physically and yet also capable of finesse." But the Ivorian has provided little of any of that since Big Phil took over.
Scolari admits he had problems when he first went to Portugal. He quickly discovered that his tub-thumping "God's on our side" rhetoric didn't go down well. It worked with Brazilians, but it left the Europeans cold. So he had to find another way through.
He didn't help himself by making a bad mistake. Portugal met Spain in a friendly. He chose an experimental side. Why not, he thought -- it was only a friendly. It was an astonishing lack of cultural sensitivity. He failed to realize that against such rivals, there's no such thing as a friendly. Local pride is at stake. Portugal's 3-0 defeat put Scolari's regime under early pressure.
He was able to ride it out because he had time. Portugal was hosting Euro '04, and had no need to qualify. So there were two years of friendlies before the competitive test arrived. His new position in London offers him no such bedding-in time. He's now in a league system (another first -- when he was a club coach in Brazil, the playoff format was still in effect) where three points in August are worth the same as three points in May.
It's highly likely that the loss of Steve Clarke has made Scolari's task more complicated. Clarke was steeped in the club, first as a defender, then as assistant coach. He represented continuity, so it was a bad sign when he decided that being Gianfranco Zola's assistant at West Ham was preferable to working with Scolari at Chelsea.
So Big Phil has had to do it all the hard way. He undoubtedly thought there would be funds available for him to build a side. Instead, the money tap has dried up and he's obliged to work with the squad he inherited -- essentially he has taken on Josť Mourinho's team for his first experience of a league campaign and his first time with a multinational squad. It's hardly surprising that it hasn't been smooth sailing.
Scolari will be judged at Chelsea by what happens in the rest of this season. Can he mount a challenge for the Premiership title? Even better, can he win the club's first Champions League crown? The latter has him on more familiar ground, in the knockout format that he enjoys so much.
At the end of the season, it could be that last weekend's late comeback against Stoke will be looking very significant. Defeat -- or even a draw -- would have cranked the pressure up another notch. Instead, the much-celebrated win has bought him some time. Can Scolari use it to put his undoubted coaching quality to work in his unfamiliar new surroundings?