Luiz Felipe Scolari on missing ‘one of the great chances of my life’

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Today one of football’s most influential figures celebrates his 74th birthday, with Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari turning another year older. The former Brazil national team coach, who famously won the World Cup two decades ago, saw the milestone marked by his current club, Athletico Paranaense, whose Twitter account wrote: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FELIPÃO! Wednesday is special for Luiz Felipe Scolari, who completes another year of life!”

One of his former clubs failed to pay tribute to the star, however. Scolari managed Chelsea Football Club, between 2008 and 2009 before being given the boot after a run of poor performances.

His time at Stamford Bridge was among the lowest moments of his career, including when his Brazil team lost 7-1 to Germany in 2014 while they were playing at home in the World Cup.

Despite this, Scolari reflected on the missed opportunity he had while at Chelsea years after he was sacked, paving the way for interim manager Guus Hiddink to take over, who within months transformed the side and won the FA Cup.

The Brazilian, who has also managed Portugal and Palmeiras, noted that “one or two players” clashed with his style of leadership, which, along with “some problems with injuries [and] some problems in the team”, ended in his dismissal.

According to The Sun, the coach noted that issues revolved around Chelsea’s iconic striker Didier Drogba and his fellow attacker Nicholas Anelka, who had also featured for a number of Premier League sides such as Manchester City, Arsenal, and Liverpool.

In blunt dig at Drogba, Scolari said in September: “Our medical department thought that we should let Drogba go and recover in Cannes, in the middle of summer.

“I thought he should stay in London. I’d also like to go to Cannes in the middle of summer. I’d stay there for a month, two months, enjoying myself.”

Eventually, Drogba, who captained his home country of the Ivory Coast, was given the greenlight to visit Cannes, France. But on his return he struggled to adapt to his new boss’ formula. Ideally, Scolari noted, he wanted Drogba and Anelka to play in a dual attack, something which ultimately failed.

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He said: “When [Drogba] came back, I tried to adapt so that Drogba and Anelka could play together. Anelka was the top scorer in the league.

“We had a meeting and Anelka said, ‘I only play in one position.’ So, there was a bit of a lack of friendship, of respect, of trying to play together with Drogba. They were both great, but someone had to do something different, to get back to help when we lost the ball.

“That was when it changed a bit. But we’ve met since then, me and Drogba. The last time was in Russia in 2018. We spoke openly about it. There wasn’t any ill intention from him or Anelka. But it happened and I lost out on one of the great chances of my life.”

The brutal axing of Scolari, who concluded his spell at Chelsea with only five losses in his 36 matches, was remarked upon by fellow Premier League manager and British football stalwart, Sir Alex Ferguson.

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He said: “It’s a sign of the times. There is absolutely no patience in the world now.”

His friendship with Sir Alex lasted longer than his time in the Premier League, as in February, writing for the Daily Mail, Scolari acknowledged their relationship and bonding over Portugese starlet Cristiano Ronaldo, who they both coached.

He said: “I used to call Cristiano a lot, so Ferguson used to talk to me about how he was doing at Manchester United, the hard work he was putting in, all that.

“I faced him in the Premier League when I went to Chelsea. There is something very nice in England where coaches meet and talk after games. There aren’t fights, there is friendship. It’s very beautiful.

“After a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, we drank wine and he made compliments, even about the drink, and we started joking around.

“When I left Chelsea, the first person to talk to the press about my time at the club was Ferguson. He was very complimentary and said I should have stayed in England. We still talk when we have the chance.”

Scolari, who also holds Italian citizenship, was reportedly a huge admirer of English football while growing up. As well as being a fan of Brazilian side Grêmio, he also followed Nottingham Forest and marveled at their successes under Brian Clough in the Seventies.

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