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Brazil's re-run : The Phil and Parreira show


Luiz Felipe Scolari never gets tired of people reminding him how much he looks like Gene Hackman. He gets a kick out of it. The Brazilian likes to watch Hollywood films, where his "separated at birth" lookalike plays "strong" roles. Hackman never relied on heavy make-up or SFX to give extra weight to his roles. His raw talent was enough to steal scenes and grab a few Oscars and Golden Globes. In 2004, when Hackman hanged his boots, he said he didn't want to "keep pressing" and risk "going out on a real sour note". "I feel comfortable with what I've done, " said the retired actor, who now writes novels.

This is where similarities between Scolari and his "twin" end. The football coach, who took Brazil to their fifth World Cup title in 2002, still believes in pressing ahead even at the risk of blowing away his past glory. On Thursday, exactly 10 years and 3 months after Brazil's last hurrah at the World Cup and one week after the sudden sacking of Mano Menezes, Scolari returned as the coach of Selecao - as the national team is known in this futebolcrazy country. Also making a comeback as technical coordinator was Carlos Alberto Parreira, who was Brazil's coach when it won the Cup in 1994.

Though the announcement, made by Jose Maria Marin, the powerful boss of Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), came after days of behind-the-scenes powerplay and with names like Tite, Muricy Ramalho, Abel Braga and even ex-Barca legend Pep Guardiola making headlines, nobody was shocked when Felipao (Big Phil), as Scolari is known across the country, and Perreira were given charge of preparing the Brazilian side in just 19 months to win the Cup for the record sixth time. In Sao Paolo on Thursday, Scolari and Parreira sounded like blood brothers with a plan to bring back the family treasure that rightfully belongs to them. "It is with great joy that I return to work and be involved in a major project of the Brazilian team. I'm happy to have someone by my side that I can share the directions of selection, " Scolari said about Parreira. "I feel like a kid, rejuvenated, interested, with passion, with flame. It is a pleasure to work with Scolari, " Parreira returned Big Phil's compliment.

Thursday's photo-ops might have made pretty pictures for the family album, they couldn't hide the ugly fights in the Brazilian football, sparked last week by CBF chief when he fired Menezes, saying he wanted "the national team to head in a different direction". Even though Menezes was not very popular, a lot of people were stunned by his removal. He was not a bad coach, at all. Since taking over from Dunga after the 2010 World Cup failure in South Africa, Menezes led a young Brazilian side to 21 victories, six losses and six draws. He was building a team which could be ready by 2014. Shockingly, Menezes was given the boot just a day after Brazil defeated Argentina 4-3 to win the Superclasico de Las Americas, a trophy contested by national team players with local clubs in Argentina and Brazil. According to some experts - and there are 200 million of them in this country - Menezes' fate was sealed the day Mexican forward Oribe Peralta scored a goal in just 29 seconds against Brazil at the London Olympics final and "robbed" them of the yellow metal. But professional observers of the game here see the larger picture - politics - behind the move. "Menezes was linked to Ricardo Teixeira, the former president of CBF, and Marin, the acting president, is trying to curb the remaining power of Teixeira by isolating his acolytes inside CBF, " says Marcos Guterman, journalist and author of O Futebol Explica o Brasil (Football Explains Brazil), a book that traces the country's history in the 20th century through football.

Politics or not, the appointment of the national football coach generates as much heat and dust here as the presidential election. "It's the second-most important and probably the most difficult job in the country, " says Leandro de Paula, who teaches physics at UniversIty of Rio de Janeiro and follows the Brazilian team with as much passion as most Brazilians do. "And since this time the World Cup is being held here, the position of coach becomes even more important. "

With its economy booming and the country emerging as a power on the world scene, there is suddenly a newfound confidence in Brazil. In recent years, not only has Neymar, the poster boy of Brazilian football, turned his back on European clubs, but players like Luis Fabiano and Vagner have returned home from Europe to play for local clubs. The next World Cup would be Brazil's best chance to not only win the Cup but also show itself a wellgoverned country. Not willing to take a chance, the CBF honchos probably believe that the future lies in the past. And that's why they have brought back Scolari, who has been without a job since leaving the Sao Paulo club Palmeiras a few months ago after he helped the club win the Brazilian Cup this year.

Though Scolari has an impressive record with Brazil, Portugal and Chelsea, top football critics here fear he might be past his sell-by date. Commenting on the decision to bring back the former coaches, Renato Mauricio Prado of O Globo called it a "journey down a Time Tunnel". "Hopefully the CBF is able to lead us to a glorious past, as in '94 and 2002, and not of enormous frustration, as in 1950. We will soon know if there is a light at the end of the tunnel or is it just the headlight of the locomotive coming in the opposite direction?" wrote Prado in his blog on Thursday.

It's not the first time that the CBF has abruptly changed the coach mid-course on way to the big event. In 1969, Brazil's military dictators pushed out Joo Saldanha, a romantic who put his soul into the Pelê, Gêrson, Tosto line-up, and gave the team's charge to Mario Zagallo, a former winger who with sheer hard work led the team to a great victory in 1970. But Zagallo was working with the likes of Rivelino, Pele and Jairzinho, and Scolari had players like Ronaldo, Rivaldo and a young Ronaldinho in his squad in 2002. This time around, the Big Phil doesn't have the luxury of a massive pool of talent. Besides Neymar and Oscar, there is hardly any player who can instill fear in the opposition, and even they haven't been tested against the big boys of world football. "Brazil has many good coaches. The problem is that we are running out of really good players, " says Guterman. "We have some very good players but not for all positions. "

Even former legends rue the lack of talent in the country. The day Scolari was named the coach, his former striker Ronaldo slammed the Brazil team as the "worst in history". And Zico, the former midfielder of the "Best team that never won the World Cup" (in 1982), recently said that few can or want to play the "adventurous, flowing, attacking football" Brazil is known for. With a generation of players honing their skills in Europe, Brazilian football seems to have fallen between two stools. Though it will be too much to expect the Scolari Family - Feilpao and Perreira - to fix all these problems in less than two years, they are a capable team with proven record. As a club coach in the 1990s, Scolari had refused to take charge of the Brazilian team. But in 2001, with a year to go until the World Cup, he changed his mind, stepped into the role, won the tournament and got out while the going was good - just like his Hollywood twin Gene Hackman.
But now Felipao is repeating himself. First time, it was a triumph. Will it be a triumph again?

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