Thursday, November 21, 2019

Scolari to join Fergie, Wenger and Rafa in the mind games. Will he win the day?

With big Phil Scolari joining the Premiership managerial battle we have a new face to contest the war that goes on at the summit of the league. Who will come out on top this season? Will Scolari play a full part in the fallings-out that will inevitably occur between the bosses?

Let’s look at the runners and riders:

Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson is sitting pretty (not a word often associated with Sir Alex) after two successive Premier League titles and the Champions League victory. He has announced that he is staying for another couple of years and will be determined to go out on a high. He has been remarkably quiet over the summer and has said little, even about the Ronaldo saga.

Liverpool’s Rafa Benitez will be looking forward to a less troubled season behind the scenes, maybe optimistically, and will be looking to finally shake off the title of being England’s fourth best team. He will be looking for further European success. It may have reached the time whereby Benitez has got to deliver a realistic challenge for the title.

Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger will have been stung by the criticism he has received over the past few months and by the apparent desire of some of his players to leave the club. He will be looking to maintain a challenge in all competitions and to prove that his method of play and his transfer policy can be ultimately successful.

What about Phil Scolari? What will he be hoping to achieve at Chelsea?

Well, going by the experience of Avram Grant last season, only a Premier League title or Champions League victory or both will be regarded as success. The need for that level of achievement won’t frighten Scolari who has been there, seen it and done it. A world cup winner is a rare beast and having managed that, I would guess that nothing else would seem insurmountable.

However, Scolari has not managed a club side in Europe or experienced the unique pressures applied to a manager of one of the top four clubs by the media in England. There is no doubt that a couple of less than impressive results would lead to stories in the press of unrest behind the scenes. Any disturbances within the club will be highlighted and exaggerated to the extreme.

You can be sure that all the Chelsea players, particularly those who are not selected in the first team, will be constantly harassed by the media looking for anti-Scolari comments.

Big Phil famously turned down the role as England manager because he wasn’t sure that he needed the hassle of media intrusion in his life. It won’t be any less at Chelsea and only total success will keep him safe from rumour mongering and mischief making.

The difference between Scolari and the other three managers is that they have experienced this sort of pressure for many years. Benitez still struggles with it occasionally and gives the press plenty to speculate about with some very strange press conferences. On the whole though, he knows what it takes to keep ahead of the media and public expectations.

Sir Alex and Wenger are past masters at dealing with the press and they have the ability and the desire to add to the mischief making in relation to other managers at the top clubs. They have both given interviews where on the surface they seem to be defending their fellow manager but when you analyse what they have actually said the meaning is lot more sinister. The ‘support’ Sir Alex Ferguson offered to Rafa Benitez when his bosses were at loggerheads last season was a case in point.

Because Scolari is an unknown quantity in England it is difficult to guess how he will deal with the media and how well he will compete in the ‘manager wars’. Of course, he made a promising start by publicly advising Cristiano Ronaldo to leave Manchester United before anyone, other than him, knew he would be taking over at their main rivals!

From what I have seen he appears to be a man who knows his own mind and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. I don’t think that the media or the managers mind games will faze him at all but the early weeks of the season will show us more.

It could just be that the relative respite that Ferguson, Wenger and Benitez were given in the manager stakes when Avram Grant took over from the more colourful Jose Mourinho, has now been turned around one hundred and eighty degrees. They may have met their match.

It will be fascinating to see how it develops.


Graham Fisher



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