Big Phil does it his way

April 27, 2006

Luiz Felipe Scolari has been characterised as a ruthless disciplinarian whose controversial decisions have brought success and a reputation as one of the best coaches in football.

Scolari - affectionately known as Big Phil - has the perfect credentials to take Portugal into this summer's World Cup in Germany after leading his homeland Brazil to the prize four years ago in Japan.

He was therefore an obvious choice for Portuguese Football Federation president Gilberto Madail to lead the host nation's campaign in Euro 2004 and in leading his adopted country to runners-up spot - the first time Portugal have reached a major final - he has laid the foundations for another tilt at glory.

Scolari has proven in the past he does not respect reputations.

When he took the Brazil job at a time when the country was in real danger of not qualifying for the World Cup for the first time, he immediately cast out the likes of Romario, Edmundo and Mario Jardel. All were prolific scorers who were reported to have a busy nightlife.

'I make the decisions about the players I want in my squads,' he said.

His decisions have been no less controversial since joining Portugal and he has never selected Joao Pinto, who won two youth World Cups in 1989 or 1991.

Scolari has angered many Porto fans by constantly refusing to select goalkeeper Vitor Baia, roundly considered as the best in Portugal.

His decision to call up Brazilian-born Deco rankled with some but Scolari quickly silenced dissent in the ranks when he said anyone who disagreed with his choices should say so to his face and would then be welcome to leave the national team.

Scolari's debut with Portugal had something of a fairytale ending as Deco scored the winner in the last major match ever played at Porto's old Estadio das Antas - against Brazil.

Scolari, whose military bearing has earned him the nickname of `sargentao' (sergeant major), showed once again how he will not shirk from taking a major decision when Euro 2004 got under way.

A 2-1 defeat at the hands of Greece in their opening game - at the time few imagined Greece would go on and win the tournament - was an awful start for the hosts.

The coach immediately made sweeping changes as Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and Miguel replaced Fernando Couto, Manuel Rui Costa and Paulo Ferreira.

The changes paid dividends and Portugal marched on to the final only to fall at the final hurdle with the Greeks once again proving the nemesis of Scolari and his team.

World Cup qualifying saw a younger-looking team qualify in impressive fashion in a tough group where Russia, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Liechtenstein supplied the opposition.

When the draw was made in Leipzig in December, Scolari made no attempt to hide his delight as the Portuguese were handed a relatively easy group that includes Mexico, Iran and Angola.

His blunt responses are seen as endearing by some, and he will not hesitate to give a stupid question an abrupt reply.

When asked by English journalists to compare Wayne Rooney to Pele during Euro 2004 he said: 'Well one's white and the other's black.'

However, he does have a softer side. He is a father of two children and is deeply religious, although it is something he prefers to keep private.

He will not predict whether Portugal can emulate his Brazil side of four years ago but would only say: 'If we go out in the first round then I may be considered to have failed.'