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Saturday, April 29, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

English media get what they deserve if Big Phil takes charge


LONDON -- Having done much to press the Football Association's hand in forcing it to tell Sven-Goran Eriksson that he will not be the England head coach after the World Cup finals, the English football media found themselves in a pickle.

Christopher Davies

They did not like the man who seemed set to be named his successor -- Middlesbrough's Steve McClaren.

It's one thing to get rid of someone, but when his replacement doesn't get your stamp of approval it means Plan A did not go quite as you anticipated.

Fleet Street's finest put the boot to Eriksson (who in fairness did not help himself), and the F.A. finally bowed to media pressure. But when the football correspondents of the nine national newspapers were asked who should succeed Eriksson, not one said McClaren. Martin O'Neill had six votes, Sam Allardyce two and Alan Curbishley one.

Panic ensued at the F.A., which had leaked the news about McClaren to test public opinion.

So "sources" at the F.A. then indicated Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Portugal coach who led Brazil to 2002 World Cup glory was "the new favorite" -- but the nation's top football writers were still generally unimpressed.

However, despite receiving zero votes from the nation's leading football writers, Gene Hackman-lookalike Scolari was formally offered the job on Wednesday night.

Eriksson didn't care what was written about him and Big Phil, as Scolari is called (The Sun on Thursday never printed his full name, referring to him only as Big Phil Scolari), won't understand what is in Her Majesty's press as he speaks virtually no English.

The Little Englanders who did not like Eriksson in charge because he was foreign will have a field day -- a Phil day? -- with Scolari.

At least the Swede spoke our language.

McClaren's mistake was saying he was happy to be judged on his record, which is winning the League Cup final and, er, well, just winning the League Cup final.

Big Phil on the other hand has on his CV domestic titles with two clubs in Brazil, a World Cup title, and leading Portugal to the Euro 2004 final, where it lost to Greece (you still feel this should be checked with the record books).

The F.A. has tended to go for a manager different to the coach he is replacing, and this is certainly the case with Scolari.

Whereas, the laid-back Eriksson has been blindly loyal to his players, notably captain David Beckham who appears to have a clause in his contract that he is not substituted, Big Phil has been characterized as a ruthless disciplinarian whose controversial decisions have brought success and a recognition as one of the top coaches in football.

Reputations mean little to Scolari.

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 goalscorers who were reported to have a busy nightlife.

His decisions have been no less controversial since joining Portugal, angering many Porto fans by constantly refusing to select goalkeeper Vitor Baia, considered as the best in Portugal.

Scolari's blunt responses are seen as endearing by some, and he will not hesitate to give what he considers 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."

On Brazil's pragmatic style during the last World Cup, Scolari said: "The beautiful game is dead and buried. It is history."

When told it was Pele who had called football the beautiful game Big Phil responded: "Pele knows nothing about football."

Political correctness does not always figure high in Scolari's priorities -- "I don't talk to Spaniards. This is war. It is a case of kill or die," he said as he refused an interview request from a Spanish radio station ahead of Portugal's clash with the old enemy at Euro 2004.

A few more remarks like that and the English football writers could be yearning for the good old days of Eriksson.

The Swede's off-field activities have embarrassed the F.A.. but nothing will be more embarrassing for those who run English football than England winning the 2006 World Cup final in Eriksson's last match in charge, perhaps beating Portugal on the way.

Thanks for the World Cup, Sven. And goodbye.

IT NEVER FAILS to amaze me how some people in football can be responsible for the most avoidable of mistakes yet escape a red card.

This week the Football Association's refereeing department humiliated a blameless Mike Dean when he was replaced for the F.A. Cup final by Alan Wiley.

Dean's "crime" was living in the Wirral, which belatedly the referees' chiefs decided was too close to Liverpool, which plays West Ham in the final and Dean could be compromised by this.

The F.A. paid lip service and said it has "complete faith in Dean's refereeing ability, integrity and impartiality."

Traditionally the identity of the F.A. Cup final referee is revealed after the semifinals have been played (the timing is not rocket science), but unusually -- remarkably many would say -- Dean's appointment was made public on April 7), more than two weeks before Liverpool and West Ham secured their places in the final.

The reason for the early announcement is steeped in refereeing politics, but it has left Dean understandably unhappy and frustrated because the change is no fault of his and no reflection on the way he has been officiating.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal, Chelsea and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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