The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Eric Ehrmann Headshot

Brazil's Football Drama... The Big Backstory Behind 'Big Phil'

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Former Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari will have an old score to settle when his Samba Boys play England in the chilly confines of Wembley on 6 February.

Scolari still carries a quiet grudge against Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, the Siberian Superboss who likes to play musical chairs with his managers. Abramovich sacked the 2002 World Cup winner from his job at Stamford Bridge in 2009. But the man known as "Big Phil" rebounded in a big way, becoming the world's highest paid coach with a two year stint at Bunyodkor in the Uzbekistan League with an annual salary of $18 million.

When tapped to lead the Samba Boys last week Scolari was serving as a consultant to the government of president Dilma Rousseff on football matters.

But there's a big backstory to the Samba Boys drama indicating that the quick naming of Scolari last week after the snap firing of Mano Manezes was a tactic to ward off effort a three month campaign by former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola and his backers to win the job.

The Guardian reported that the Brazilian Football Confederation did not plan to name a new manager until after the new year.

Efforts to promote Guardiola as the man best suited to take over the Samba Boys gained momentum back in August, with Brazilian media citing Spanish sources who claimed the CBF had shown interest in offering him the job.

Sports media started buzzing up Scolari as the next field general on Monday, 19 November just hours after Federal Police raided the home of the vice president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), Marco Polo del Nero, in Sao Paulo.

Police confiscated a laptop, an Ipad and files in the dawn raid and took Del Nero into custody for questioning. He refused to answer reporters questions after his release citing the sensitive nature of the investigation. A statement issued by the CBF, however, denied the matter had anything to do with futebol Del Nero's criminal law practice or his connection with political figures involved in the broader Federal Police operation that Del Nero, who is a member of the FIFA Brazil 2014 organizing committee, is part of.

Former CBF director Andres Sanchez who supported keeping Manezes on suggested that Del Nero was instrumental in bringing about the sudden departure of Manezes, touching off a fractious debate that revealed sharp divisions in the secretive CBF, which operates as a state within a state and has dodged allegations of corruption and mismanagement for decades.

Although the power of the internet generated a groundswell of nationalism and rejected a non-Brazilian being offered the manager job the sports world players who made Guardiola's a contender remain unknown, like the characters who hide behind masks in Japanese kabuki theatre. And if the findings of Federal Police investigations involving Del Nero might offer journalists any clues, they are currently under embargo.

Brazilian sports zine Lance and others indicate clearly that Guardiola tried to get first mover advantage over Scolari and other managers in the competition to win the job.

On Monday 26 November, a week after Scolari's name was unofficialy leaked to the press as the probable next manager, Guardiola was still front runner to coach the team in polls conducted by Brazilian media organizations.

Borrowing a page from Guardiola's playbook "Big Phil" also told fans that he would win the World Cup when the CBF officially introduced him as the new Samba Boy manager last week. Helping him get the job done is new technical director Carlos Alberto Parreira, another old school manager. Parreira, who coached South Africa during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, who coached Brazil to victory in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. So far the big loser in the power struggle is Andres Sanchez, the CBF talent picker who resigned after bringing the controversy out into the open

With president Dilma giving Scolari marching orders to win now "Big Phil" says he is planning to field a team of seasoned international caps for the match at Wembley in February. But as the Samba Boys wallow in 13th place in the FIFA-Coca Cola rankings and hungry to get back into the coveted Top 10 the friendly at Wembley could turn ugly real fast. Meanwhile, Brazilian media coverage of Pep Guardiola, who could have been the first foreigner to manage the Samba Boys, and the men who backed him for the job, has faded into darkness.