Luiz Felipe Scolari was virtually a unanimous choice when Brazil made the decision to replace Mano Menezes and appoint a new coach at the end of last year. After all, Felipão was the architect of Brazil’s fifth and most recent world title to date, secured at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™.
There is, however, another very good reason why Scolari fitted the bill as the man to take charge of the host nation at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013, which gets under way this Saturday, and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. A winner on the biggest of stages, he also knows all about the pressure of being the home coach in an international tournament.
His coaching career began back in 1990, when he steered Kuwait’s national team to the Gulf Cup of Nations title on home soil. Fourteen years on he was at the helm of the Portugal side that hosted UEFA EURO 2004, a tournament in which they restored their bond with the nation on their way to finishing runners-up to Greece.
“He was very aware of the fact that it had been many years since the Portuguese people felt any real affinity with the national team, and he made it his priority to get them all behind us and to believe in us,” midfielder Maniche, a member of that 2004 side, told FIFA.com. That really helped us strive for success. When it comes to psychology, he’s really ahead of the game and he was such an important figure both for the players and the people of Portugal as a whole. It was he who made them proud of their national side again. He motivated the players and the fans, who gave their support to the team.”
Harnessing the energy of the fans, Scolari and his team turned the additional pressure of playing at home into an extra source of motivation, drawing inspiration from the packed stadiums, the flags hanging from every window and the processions that followed the team bus en route to every game.
Those memories are still fresh in the mind of Portugal’s then goalkeeper Ricardo, whose place in the side was questioned by some, but who repaid his coach’s faith with his gloveless heroics in the penalty-shootout defeat of England in the quarter-finals.
“Scolari managed to harness all that extra energy that was generated around the team,” the custodian told FIFA.com. “He was the one who asked people to put flags in their windows and to sing the national anthem as loud as they could, inside and outside the stadiums. On our way to the stadiums, we’d be standing up on the bus just to watch the huge crowds of people cheering us on.”
Brazil looking to capture the imagination
A Seleção will be hoping to draw on that kind of support when they step out for Saturday’s opening match of the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 against Japan at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha in Brasilia. The difference in this case, however, is that with five world titles in the bank, Brazil fans have grown accustomed to success, usually achieved in style.
In an interview with FIFA.com in April, Scolari spoke of the pressure Brazil will be under: “It’s completely different. The pressure that’s generated by the media and the country as a whole can lead you to take an approach you wouldn’t normally pursue on other occasions. We’ve been playing friendlies up to now and the whole feel of those games is different, especially when they’re overseas. There’s not the same pressure surrounding them and there’s not the same need to win. The Confederations Cup will be crucial to seeing how the players react in both positive and negative terms. Based on that, we’ll then start making decisions for the World Cup.”
While the coach’s relationship with the fans is important, it his ability to get the most out of the players that really counts, and that is a quality for which Scolari is also renowned.
“He’s very emotional and he works on the psychology of the players,” added Maniche. “For example, after meals we’d go back to our rooms and find a poem under the door. We’d have to read it and reflect on what the people of Portugal expected of us. He often spoke to us about people who were struggling with money and yet still managed to buy a ticket to the matches. Little things like that made a huge difference before a big game.”
Brazil’s ever-demanding fans will make absolutely sure that every competitive match the national team plays in the next 12 months will be exactly that: a big game. Yet, with their very own Mr Motivator in the dugout, the Brazil players will not be lacking in focus or inspiration when they go in search of the results the supporters crave.