From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.08 :: Feb. 21, 2009

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FOOTBALL / KICKING AROUND

Managerial mayhem

Calling Big Phil Scolari, as some critics have, still one of the best managers in the world rings hollow indeed and surely ignores the embarrassing truth, writes Brian Glanville.

Scarcely had poor Tony Adams bitten the dust at Portsmouth than in a far more sensational development, Big Phil Scolari was given the boot by Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. Which I suppose could be of some consolation to Chelsea fans apart from the fact that Scolari clearly hadn’t cut the mustard. That is to say, it presumably means that contrary to much recent speculation, Roman is not about to walk away from the club. Indeed, he has poured yet another £6 million down the drain to pay up the rest of Scolari’s contract.

That Scolari failed at Stamford Bridge is beyond doubt. Though the team made a very bright start under him, recent results have been abysmal, culminating in the pitiful 0-0 draw with Hull City at The Bridge; a game which modest Hull, just promoted to the top division after more than a century of existence, could well have won. Worst of all, still worse than the humiliating draw with humble Southend United in the FA Cup, again at The Bridge, was the 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford, where Manchester United simply walked over a Chelsea team which showed no fight at all. And surely the morale of a team, never mind the tactics and the selection, is the responsibility of its manager. You never saw that kind of surrender under the previous incumbents of the managerial job, erratic Claudio Ranieri, conceited but effective Jose Mourinho, pedestrian Avram Grant.

That was surely enough of an accusation to lay at the door of Scolari. If he could not motivate his teams, what earthly use could he be? Calling him, as some critics have, still one of the best managers in the world rings hollow indeed and surely ignores the embarrassing truth.

I suppose that such supporters of Big Phil could argue that any manager who wins the World Cup, as he did back in 2002 with Brazil, in Japan, must be accounted a major figure. Yet I must reiterate that the success had much to do with the defiance of Brazil’s fantasisti, the likes of Ronaldo, Riverlino and Ronaldinho, who insisted on strutting their stuff in seeming defiance of the more cautious methods initially favoured by Big Phil.

One must also reiterate the embarrassing fact that, as the manager of the Portuguese national team, Big Phil’s selection was twice beaten on its own soil by modest Greece, in the 2004 finals of the European Championship.

There are those who say that, at Chelsea, he was badly let down by the man who should have been the chief force of the Chelsea attack, the burly Didier Drogba. But how well did Scolari handle him? Why was it that he failed to get Drogba and Nicolas Anelka combining fruitfully up front, so that time after time, Anelka would start the game as a solitary spearhead? Chelsea’s insistence that they were playing 4-3-3 being illusory.

In fact, they didn’t even play with adequate wingers, especially, though this was no fault of Scolari, after the serious injury to the versatile Joe Cole. This meant a heavy burden on the full-backs, to overlap down the flank. But backs, however quick and talented, can never do what a true-winger can; get to the goal-line past the opposing full-back and pull the ball back into the middle.

One should, however, emphasise that here Scolari was the victim of the club’s own mistaken transfer policy, in recent seasons having got rid of wingers such as Shaun Wright-Phillips, now in bubbling form on the right-wing for his original club, Manchester City, Damien Duff, elusive and effective at Newcastle, and Arjen Robben, the gifted Dutch left-winger, who is now beating opponents on behalf of Real Madrid.

Yet even in basic defensive matters, Scolari has been found wanting. It is hardly his fault, true, that poor Pete Cech, the towering Czech international goalkeeper, was so fearfully kicked on the head last season playing at Reading by the Irish left-winger, Hunt.

Since his return, wearing a protective cap he hasn’t remotely been the same figure, no longer able to dominate his penalty box in the air. A problem compounded by the extraordinary inability this season of the Chelsea defence to deal with high crosses, either from corner-kicks or free-kicks, which time and again this season has given embarrassing goals away. Surely this is a defect which could and should have been worked out long since at the Cobham training ground.

Significantly as it now transpires, Abramovich had very little to do personally with Scolari, whom he met only a handful of times. The impression was that the Russian oligarch, who has reportedly lost several billion dollars in the recent Russian economic collapse, was losing interest in the club. An impression reinforced by the fact that he attended fewer and fewer games at Stamford Bridge. But the latest developments show that, much surely to Chelsea’s relief, he has every intention of remaining.

Portsmoth sacked Tony Adams barely a day before Big Phil was defenestrated by Chelsea, but in Adams’ case, sympathy is surely in order. The former skipper and centre-half of Arsenal and England was, when he took over from Harry Redknapp, defecting back to Spurs, given a rotten hand to play. The club, in severe financial trouble and with no Abramovich to come to the rescue, promptly sold two of the best players, the highly active and influential midfielder, Diarra, going to Real Madrid, and the striker, Jermain Defoe, returning to Tottenham.

All this compounded by some shocking ineptitude on the field by experienced players, who should surely have known better. At Fulham for example, I was astonished by the sheer ineptitude of the two central-defenders, Sylvain Distin and Younes Kaboul.

Every ball played through the middle seemed to turn into a devastating through pass. What could Adams do about that? As an ex-centre half, I asked him afterwards, wasn’t he disappointed?

He smiled and said he’d have been just as disappointed had he been a centre-forward.

What transpired to be his last game, at home to Liverpool, resulted in a last gasp defeat in a game which might well have been won. Were it not for more shocking errors. Distin was a culprit again, when Kuyt scored for Liverpool and a crazily under hit back-pass from far away by centre-forward Peter Crouch eventually led to a Liverpool goal. What could Adams or any other manager have done about that? The defence rests. Literally.



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