Scolari battles the crimson tide

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On the surface it appears calm, flowing and even beautiful to watch.  Underneath, it’s a world of the unknown, one mistake, one error of judgement and you’re in deep, deep trouble.  For Chelsea Manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari, it seems navigating his way through English football may be a bridge too far.  A run of inconsistent results over the past month has heaped the pressure on the man affectionately known as, Gene Hackman.

Scolari’s striking resemblance to the Hollywood actor reminds me of a scene in the 1995 film, Crimson Tide, where Hackman plays the role of Capt. Frank Ramsey.  Capt. Ramsey explains to his lieutenant, played by Denzel Washington, who’s in charge: “We have rules that are not open to interpretation, personal intuition, gut feelings, hairs on the back of your neck, little devils or angels sitting on your shoulder.  We’re all very well aware of what our orders are and what those orders mean.  They come down from our Commander in Chief.  They contain no ambiguity.”

Maybe, here is where the problem lies.  Who’s in charge?  Is it Scolari, the players, or is it owner, Roman Abramovich?  For a Club that didn’t win anything last season, I think some humility is required and respect for the new boss, give him some time.  Scolari comes with an impressive track-record, guiding his homeland, Brazil, to glory in the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the most notable highlight.  He has won the South American equivalent of the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores with Palmeiras; all he has to do is the same in Europe, wishful thinking perhaps.

Abramovich wants Chelsea to play attacking football, score lots of beautiful goals and win all the time.  Just winning on its own isn’t enough anymore, as ex-Manager, José Mourinho found out.  However, the events of the past 12 months have shown that money doesn’t buy success, in fact, it hinders it.  Bringing-in Scolari was supposed to lift the team and get the players back to business.  With Scolari’s influence came Brazilian-born, Portugal international, Deco.  The new-look Chelsea now has a samba flavour to it, a bit of Capoeira might add some excitement to their Cobham training sessions.

It would appear a formidable line-up in midfield with Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Deco.  Scolari gave Deco his international debut in 2003 and is keen to build the midfield around him saying, “We are playing more open football, with more touches and the players closer to each other, now we have Deco in the team.”  But in reality, it has been difficult for this vision to transpire into free-flowing football.  A Deco-less midfield has even been trialled of late.

Chelsea and Scolari avoided a potential banana skin yesterday by winning 4-1 at Southend United in their FA Cup third-round replay, yes replay, it sounds hard to believe.  Coming off a 3-0 humiliation at Old Trafford, this was the perfect response from the players; many have been criticised by their Manager for a string of poor-performances.

Team spirit and communication seems to be the crux of the problem.  Scolari spoke about team spirit in his press conference prior to the win over Southend.  He was adamant that mental mistakes have cost his side many important points, not team spirit.  I’m not convinced, the mentality and attitude of the Chelsea players has not been great, nor has their level of concentration when defending, especially on set-pieces.  How do some of the best defensive players in the world, all of a sudden forget how to defend?

The Barclays Premier League needs characters; Scolari is certainly one of them.  I always get a good laugh out of his antics.  Having said that, he is big enough to take the blame for his tactical mistakes, but it’s also important to recognise the man is still in a transition period himself.

The English game is fast with a lot of high-balls played forward early.  Scolari highlighted this point when asked about how to tackle Stoke City, a notorious long-ball team.  The Brazilian philosophy will take some tweaking in England; the best teams are always going to be the one’s that are adaptable.

Now that Chelsea has got back to winning-ways, it’s time to focus.  The influence of Captain, John Terry, is going to play a fundamental part in a push for the title and success in Europe.  Terry has had his run-ins with Scolari, the England skipper needs to stop arguing and start living-up to his name.  After the match against Southend, he said: “We have been underperforming recently and the Manager was right to criticise us for not fighting enough.”  He went on to say, “Tonight was an opportunity for us and we showed great spirit.”

For the Blues to come back and dethrone the Red Devils it’s going to take some creative wisdom and more measured man-management from Scolari.  In a game judged by results, it could all turn around quickly with a win over Stoke City this weekend.  Liverpool will also have a say in the fight to win the war, currently on top, the Merseysiders have the same objective as the Blues: stop Manchester United.

If history’s anything to go by, the task is easier said than done.  Scolari was known as the “wooden leg” for his uncompromising style, back in his playing-days as a defender.  It’s going to take a solid effort to bring some silverware back to Stamford Bridge.