Just two days after it was announced he was retaking the Brazil reins – more than ten years after leading them to FIFA World Cup™ glory – Luiz Felipe Scolari sat down with FIFA.com for exclusive interview. The 64-year-old discussed, among other subjects, having Neymar at his disposal, contolling the egos within Seleção squad, their 2014 hopes, and who should win the FIFA Ballon d'Or and FIFA Coach of the Year for Men's Football awards for 2012.
FIFA.com: Even for someone who’s already enjoyed so many great moments in his coaching career, your first competitive tournament back at the Seleção helm – Brazil 2013 – will surely be special given it is on home soil. How big a difference could that make?
Luiz Felipe Scolari: The difference is that the country hosting an event is always given a bit harder time, as if they inevitably have the best team and the best players – whatever their position is in the rankings or the titles they’ve won. So, there’s a bit more of an obligation for them to win, particularly when it comes to a World Cup. Now, I think that the world’s leading sides, including Brazil, are always seen as the teams to beat, wherever they play. It’s an obligation, a duty, yes, but it’s one that in my view is normal or routine.
Is this FIFA Confederations Cup more important to Brazil due to the lack of regular competitive matches caused by qualifying as hosts for the next FIFA World Cup?
It’s very important because it’s where we’ll get our competitive games, when we can decide on one, two or three of the players that we’ll later take to the World Cup or not. I remember that, prior to [Korea/Japan] 2002, the competition I had for that was the Copa America. I used it to see my players in a run of games and decide who responded well to the situation or not, and how we could change our playing system and why. The Confederations Cup is incredibly important to us, because by then it’ll have been two-and-a-half, three years since we tackled a really strong tournament that gave us a benchmark.
When you say “responded well or not”, are you also talking about off-the-field issues?
Of course, because we club coaches sometimes have an idea [about what players might be like], but we don’t see other clubs’ players on a daily basis. At international level, you’ll often call up someone and then, after living and working together day to day, you’ll end up getting a different impression. Or we might see that the player, truth be told, doesn’t fulfil the criteria we’d thought he would. You assess these things as you go on, as you’re working with the squad. Sometimes, I’d say in the majority of cases, you’re pleasantly surprised, but other times there are reactions or behaviour that’ll make us wonder if it’s worth taking a risk.
Ronaldo used to be one of the leading figures in A Seleção, and he shone for Brazil when he was only 19 or 20. Pele was only 17 too. I don’t see anything wrong with the fact that a 20- or 21-year-old player is our biggest star.
Does that make your first few get-togethers back as Seleção coach even more vital, so you’ve something to base your analysis on?
I’d say that, going on what we’ve got to go on right now, the initial squad selections – including friendly matches and the Confederations Cup – will probably contribute a very large percentage of the players that’ll be at the World Cup.
On taking a job when you have so many players from which to choose, can you already picture how you want your team to play? Or will you first be picking the best players and finding a style that suits them?
I can picture it. I’ve got a mental process of visualising the players that might get selected for our first friendly game, and I’ve got an idea of how they’ll be set up out on the pitch. More than anything, that’s because we’ll only get two days to work with them. The ideas I’ve got now come from what I’ve seen in games, but now it’s a case of putting those ideas into practice during those two days of training, and later in the match itself, to see if they fit what I had in mind or if, over the course of the friendlies and the Confederations Cup, we’ll need to make changes. I remember that before the 2002 World Cup I’d never played with a three-man backline but, after spending time in training and getting to know the players, I felt that setting the team out like that was vital. So, I’ve already got an idea [of my Brazil side]. But, once I get all the players together and put my ideas into practice, I may well alter some things on the tactical side too.
In recent months there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not it’s necessary to blend some more experienced figures with this young crop of Brazil players. Do you have any clear ideas in that regard?
Yes, I do. I think there are other good players who could, provided they show they’re capable, get called up. Guys who’ve already got some baggage, a level of experience a bit greater than that of the players we’ve currently got playing for A Seleção. Now, there’s no ideal number of [experienced players] to get the right blend – it could be one, two, five or ten. So, if there’s a player who I think could use some of his experience to help A Seleção then I’ll probably call them up. That way we’d have a bit more of a mixture in the national squad rather than just youngsters.
Does your past success and the fact you’re a FIFA World Cup winner make a difference when it comes to dealing with the players? Does it help you get your ideas across?
I don’t know if it makes a difference, whether it makes players more likely to listen, to understand or to be a bit more willing to take things on board. I don’t know if it could make a difference but, naturally, each of us puts aside and stores things from all the experiences we go through in our lives. So, it’s obvious that when you’ve gone through some of the things I have – and [Carlos Alberto] Parreira too, after going to so many World Cups – players are going to listen to us and it’ll make them think a little. And that’s when the matter of personality comes into play, in the way we set out our ideas.
Is there any player who’s made life hard for your club teams in recent years and who you’re now pleased to have on your side?
Hmmm... Well, if I have to give you a name, let’s do it: Neymar! Finished! (laughs) Of course, how I’d have loved to have him at Palmeiras when I was there! So, it’s great that he’s with us now rather than on the opposite side. But he’s just one of the players that I could name.
That said, does the fact that A Seleção’s most iconic figure at the moment is only 20 concern you at all?
No, because Ronaldo used to be one of the leading figures in A Seleção, and he shone for Brazil when he was only 19 or 20. Pele too was only 17, and though he wasn’t a big name at the time he became one during that World Cup [in 1958]. At the end of the day, it’s not a problem. Of course you need to have a lot of character and be very level-headed. What’s more, the young lad could be an icon in technical terms, but that doesn’t mean he has to be a leader within the squad too. That’s where it’s important for there to be a good level of understanding between the coaching staff and the players so everybody knows where they stand. But I don’t see anything wrong with the fact that a 20- or 21-year-old player is our biggest star.
Moving on now to the individual awards at the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2012 Gala. Who would get the nod for you among your fellow coaches Vicente Del Bosque, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho?
I’d go for Jose Mourinho, because I think he’s one of the world’s great coaches and he’s been doing an excellent job since he started at FC Porto, then at Chelsea, Inter Milan and now Real Madrid. Because of how he’s strung all that good work together, I’d pick Mourinho.
In a squad with so many star names, like at Real Madrid or with Brazil, does a lot of the coach’s role come down to being able to keep so many stars happy?
Yes, it does. It’s one of the biggest skills: bringing together that large number of egos and personalities and making them really think about and work towards a common objective. You’ve also got to make them accept certain situations that often aren’t favourable to them as individuals. That’s the sign of a great coach, and Mourinho has that ability. I can see it in his teams and see it in how committed his players are to their coach. However, it’s only to be expected too that there are always one or two explosive situations.
Could those conflict situations even be part of gaining the squad’s respect?
Of course it’s part of the process. And along with that comes the coach’s quality, his managerial ability, to make the person they’re saying ‘no’ to realise the reasons why, and to understand that the ‘no’ isn’t set in stone, that it depends on the situation.
On to the next award and who’s your pick from Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
I’ve seen them all play, of course, but I’ve only worked with Cristiano. I think that he deserves the recognition, because of what he’s achieved with Manchester United, Portugal and Real Madrid. I’d vote for him. He’s been spectacular for four or five years in a row now and has only won once, so I’d choose him. That’s also because, having worked with him, I know how dedicated he is. I know how hard he works on his physical condition and technical ability in order to keep improving and reach his objective of being the best in the world.
At this moment in time, do you see Neymar hitting similar standards to those players?
I think that, from next year, Neymar won’t be in the top ten [for the FIFA Ballon d’Or], he’ll be in the top three. That’s where he’ll probably be. Neymar doesn’t need to go to Europe to be chosen as the world’s best player, because the coach he has at Santos now has been working with him for over a year. And, during that period, we’ve seen how Neymar has changed in terms of his attitude and his positioning out on the pitch. Muricy [Ramalho] has helped and continues to really help Neymar to grow in tactical terms. I don’t believe that he needs to go to Europe to evolve as a player. Anyone who knows Neymar knows that he’s been coming on leaps and bounds in the last two or three years and that he’s probably going to come on a lot further too.