KEIR RADNEDGE from SAO PAULO
— If Luiz Felipe Scolari had forgotten the uniquely delicate stress which accompanies being national coach of Brazil then he received a sharp reminder within hours of being reappointed this week.
Already he has had to make a public apology to the Banco do Brasil for a throwaway remark in his very first interview on his very first day back in the job since he resigned in glory after the World Cup triumph of 2002.
Scolari had been asked about his attitude to players who might struggle with the pressures which accompany representing the national team and replied that they “might as well go and work in the Banco do Brasil or outside on the corner or sit in an office and do nothing.”
The bank, a national institution and a long-term sponsor of Brazil’s Olympic gold medal-winning volleyball team, fired off a letter of complaint to the Brazilian football confederation on behalf of “all our loyal staff.”
Hence Scolari interrupted himself, during a pre-Confederations Cup draw press conference here in Sao Paulo, to put the record straight.
“Sometimes, during my interviews,” he said, “I don’t only answer specifically technical issues and what I said yesterday did not come out quite right when I was asked about pressure situations.
“I have apologised to the bank, that has been very well accepted and again I publicly apologise. In fact, I have worked for 30 years with this particular bank and if I want to work with good people then I know who I choose. We have clarified the issue and there is no problem whatsoever.”
That out of the way, Scolari returned to his theme of talking about how he expected to prepare for the challenges ahead – starting with the Confederations Cup next June and then on to the World Cup in 2014.
The importance of linkage became clear because Scolari suggested that, from experience, “90pc to 100pc of the Confederations Cup team will probably be playing for us in the World Cup.”
Not that players not selected next June need give up hope for 2014. Scolari added: “There are many new players coming through from one year to another but the Confederations Cup will give us an idea of what we need – perhaps some sort of tactical change or one or two new players.
“But it is a very interesting opportunity especially because this will be the first time ever for the Confederations Cup in Brazil and they will be very difficult matches. Because we are not taking part in the World Cup qualifiers this will be a first chance to see how our present players react in matches at this level.”
As Scolari talked on so it became more and more clear that this is a major concern of his: not only are Brazil, as World Cup hosts, not playing form-enforcing competitive matches but their friendlies have been against comparatively mediocre opposition.
He accepted that these fixtures had been arranged with commercial rather than technical priority but it remains a concern for him. Hence the prestige friendly against England at Wembley in February will be a welcome test – even for the likes of superstar striker Neymar – with, hoped Scolari, more such games to come.
He said: “Neymar might not have had the experience of a World Cup but, as with many of our young players, their ambition can make the difference represented by a lack of experience.
“There are pros and cons and I prefer to takes the positives and within another year or 18 months and with the Confederations Cup behind us we will have gained more experience coming up to the World Cup.”
In feisty form
Scolari, in typical style, was dismissive of comments by old star Ronaldo that this was the “worst moment in Brazilian football history” and suggestions that Brazil should have considered appointing Pep Guardiola so they could play like Barcelona.
In reply to Ronaldo, Scolari snapped: “What moment? When the players are kicking the ball? When they are having lunch? I don’t know what he’s talking about.”
As for whether Brazil could play like Barcelona, he sneered: “Of course, if we imported Iniesta and Messi and the others then we would play like Barcelona but the characteristics of our players in Brazil are different.
“Our responsibility is to prepare a team who play the sort of good football the people of Brazil prefer.”
Since Brazil has a population of 197m – most of whom consider they know more about football than their coach – that is some responsibility . . . and pressure, of course.
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