The following article was published on The New York Times’ Goal blog on 30 November 2012.
Jose Maria Marin left little doubt that Luiz Felipe Scolari would be appointed Brazil’s manager for a second time when, having relieved the team’s former boss Mano Menezes of his duties on Friday, he revealed that the next national team trainer would be Brazilian, have a “winning profile” and be best suited to help the Selecão “realise the dream of a home championship.”
Marin, the president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), and his deputy Marco Polo del Nero were long suspected of being admirers of Scolari, and on Thursday the worst-kept secret in the country was officially let out of the bag: Felipão, as Scolari is known, will guide Brazil into the World Cup finals it will be hosting in 19 months.
In making the decision Marin opted for comfort, for familiarity. While other serious candidates — Pep Guardiola, Tite and Muricy Ramalho — had their backers and qualifications, none of the three would have brought to the table the senses of family and “Brazilianness” that Scolari provides so naturally.
In other words, if Brazil falls to defeat at the 2014 World Cup, they will go down listening to Ivete Sangalo and mashing limes and sugar into their caipirinhas.
The players will also get used to Felipão’s arm around their shoulders. The 64-year-old Scolari likes to see himself as the patriarch of a big, futebol family — the Família Scolari — and in his Thursday press conference he made sure to address the “environment of unity” he will look to foster in the squad.
All this often makes Felipão the object of some ridicule, and his latest, tumultuous stint at Palmeiras has hardly enhanced his coaching credentials. Not that his detractors can, in any way, dispute his international record.
In his first tenure as Brazil manager, Scolari became the third Brazil coach in less than a year when, in June 2001, he replaced Émerson Leão, took a team in danger of missing the World Cup into the tournament proper and 13 months later delivered a fifth world championship. And while in charge of Portugal from 2003 to 2008 his teams contested a European Championship final and a World Cup semifinal, losing only 14 of their 74 matches.
These accomplishments would seem to indicate a manager better suited to international soccer than the rigors of the club game, and Scolari’s preference for “managing” players rather than “coaching” them would attest to that as well. The Família Scolari isn’t about formations and strategies, but rather a sense of belonging and confidence in the unit.
Which brings us to Scolari’s latest family, and the players who will belong to it.
Brazil’s next friendly is against England on Feb. 6, and while Felipão and his assistant manager Carlos Alberto Parreira — a World Cup winner himself with Brazil in 1994 — will surely call on several of the 102 players used by Menezes, some of the country’s older, more experienced players who were overlooked during the previous regime will no doubt get a chance to prove their worth as well.
When Scolari talked about Brazil’s youth during his introductory press conference he did so almost as if he was making a concession, and although he mentioned he would not be starting “from scratch” in his selections he did seem to welcome the idea of using more of the veterans available to him, saying, “We have experienced names who may come back into the team and contribute.”
Lazio midfielder Hernanes, who has established himself as one of the better playmakers in Serie A the past two seasons, will have no doubt been glad to hear that, and the same can be said of Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fernandinho, Bayern Munich’s Luiz Gustavo, Valencia’s Jonas, Real Madrid’s Kaká, Fluminense’s Fred and even Ronaldinho, who just this week agreed a contract extension at Atlético Mineiro.
Where Scolari will build from is the defense, where Dani Alves, David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Marcelo form an effective unit in front of the goalkeeper — a position where Brazil is currently spoiled for choices. It’s in the creative positions that Scolari’s biggest tactical challenge awaits, and at this point Neymar would seem to be the only player in front of the defense whose place in the team assured.
But Scolari will move quickly on that file, and by the time the Confederations Cup has come and gone next summer he will probably have a good idea of his first 11. Performances will have a lot to do with catching his eye, but so will be the way he feels a player both adapts to high-pressure situations and fits in with the rest of the team, with the Família Scolari.
Feel and family, comfort and Brazilianness. These are the sort of terms that, for better or worse, will define Scolari’s second stint as Brazil manager. Marin has wagered a home World Cup that it will be for the better, that with barely a year-and-a-half to work Felipão can be Brazil’s savior once again.