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Aug 8, 2008

Scolari to take Chelsea to new level?

After the misery of Moscow and a season best remembered for the departure of Jose Mourinho and John Terry's tears, Chelsea have chosen to come out fighting as Roman Abramovich continues his crusade to make his club the best in Europe.

And in appointing Luiz Felipe Scolari, Chelsea have called on a man hardened on the battlefields of world football.

Chelsea have chosen to again go with a cult of personality. Despite initially having the ear of Abramovich, Avram Grant left the club as much a stranger as when he arrived to take up the sinecure of Director of Football during the summer of 2007.

Grant's grumps and whines during an eight-month stint in charge have been replaced by a boss who loves a quip in a press conference and is not afraid to show his emotions on the touchline. Chelsea have been here before.

His first game in charge will almost require a 'Big Phil cam' as the Premier League celebrates the arrival of a managerial big hitter to take on Fergie, Wenger and Rafa.

As a World Cup winner with a seriously successful coaching career in Brazil and at South American level Scolari will not be entering his new job with any fear. Those wary of his appointment point to two downfalls in his appointment. First, his lack of experience in European club football. Brazilian bosses have a patchy record of late, with Wanderly Luxemburgo being a disaster at Real Madrid, the type of club Abramovich aspires to. In opposition to that view is Scolari's employment for the last four years as coach of Portugal, a leading nation whose players are dotted around the major European leagues.

Second, the worry that Scolari has been an international manager for seven years and has not been used to day-to-day involvement with his players for that period. Scolari's highly visible enthusiasm in pre-season seems to have thrown in the face of this and he has always been a close confidant of the players he has had in his charge.

That Scolari has not been slow to target all four trophies comes as a result of the fact that he arrives at a club who still have the strongest squad in the Premier League. Vast riches buy a vast squad and he has two players for every position. And either of those two is a player just about any club in the division would covet.

In midfield he possesses an embarrassment of riches, even allowing for the loss of Makelele after five years sterling service. In has come Deco, a player who Scolari gave his Portugal debut and made him a 'craque' in his team. After a poor last year at Barcelona, riven by squabbles with the club's management, it was under Scolari's aegis that Deco returned to his glittering best at Euro 2008.

At Barcelona Deco was made to curb some of his creativity in the service of even brighter stars. At Chelsea, a team essentially built by his former club boss in Mourinho, he will hope to return to being the creative fulcrum he was during the time he inspired Porto to the UEFA Cup and Champions League in successive seasons.

This may yet be problematic considering the other egos at the heart of the Chelsea midfield. Ballack and Lampard, the latter seeming likely to remain at the club at least for the 2008/9 season, have never gelled, each playing better football when the other is unavailable. Both are keen to be recognised as the key man. Throwing another man of similar expectations may be the first problem that Scolari has to solve. Few would doubt he will plan to do it his way.

The retention of Ricardo Carvalho in central defence is another boon to Chelsea. The Portuguese defender was the Blues' best backline performer last term and seemed to have all but reunited with Mourinho at Inter Milan. The one man who could persuade Carvalho otherwise was Scolari and he seems set to resume his partnership with John Terry.

With the addition of Jose Bosingwa as yet another right-back, Scolari can call on three of the four defenders he used at Euro 2008. He will hope they can deal with the crossed ball far better than they did during Portugal's exit at the hands of Germany. That said, Paulo Ferreira will not play left-back with Ashley Cole fit and Wayne Bridge remaining at the club after signing a new contract.

The loss of Makelele may see Essien restored to midfield, rather than at full-back, though perhaps in a more defensive role than he would prefer. John Obi Mikel's development as the Makelele replacement will need to accelerate too.

In retaining the services of the sulky strikeforce of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, Chelsea will feature the two villains of the Moscow piece. Drogba's sending off made many Blues fans indifferent to him staying and despite overtures to the continent, the Ivorian will continue to lead the line. Anelka's perfunctory penalty in Moscow endeared him to few at Chelsea and he could find himself outcast by Scolari's use of a lone striker.

However, should Scolari's acclaimed skills as a father figure bring out the best in this troublesome twosome then he can call on two of the best in the business. Portugal's lack of striking quality often meant that one striker was a necessary evil and the Brazilian has never been slow to shuffle his pack. We may see the pair play together sooner rather than later.

To discuss the players of Chelsea almost comes as welcome relief after two years of intrigue surrounding the futures of Mourinho and Grant and various other acolytes. Abramovich may welcome the chance to disappear into the background for a while and for Chelsea fans, the less talk of henchmen like Kenyon, Tenebaum, Buck and Arnesen the better.

Having gone as close as is possible to their ultimate aim last season, and in the last four of the Champions League for four out of the last five years, Chelsea are in danger of becoming the 'nearly men' of European football's elite. In Scolari they believe they have the man to shake that tag. After the grimness of Grant it could be fun finding out.

  • Any thoughts on this article? Feel free to email John Brewin

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