Scolari: World Cup legend or loser?Comment on this story
Rio de Janeiro - Luiz Felipe Scolari is putting his legendary status on the line as Brazil's coach at the World Cup, and now faces a major distraction after Portuguese authorities charged him on Wednesday with tax fraud.
Felipao, or “Big Phil” as he is known, was the coach of the Brazil side that won the World Cup for a record fifth time in Japan in 2002, and says he is confident of doing it again on home soil in July.
If he does not, Scolari will forever be associated with failure in a country still traumatised by their defeat to Uruguay in the deciding game of the 1950 tournament, the last hosted by the football-mad South American nation.
Adding to the pressure on the 65-year-old coach, Portuguse authorities have charged him with hiding about seven million euros ($9.6 million) in income when he coached Portugal's national side between 2003 and 2008.
He has strongly denied any wrongdoing, but the inquiry threatens to stain his image and distract Brazil from its preparations for the World Cup, which kicks off on June 12.
Scolari is looking to become only the second man to win two World Cups, after Vittorio Pozzo, who oversaw Italy's consecutive triumphs in 1934 and 1938.
But he has insisted he is not afraid of the burden of expectation.
“If I feared challenges, I wouldn't have achieved anything in my career,” he said in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian in November.
“The players know they will have to win the World Cup. We can't play a tournament in Brazil and think that second place will do.”
Indeed, Jose Maria Marin, chairman of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), summed up the pressure when he said last month that “if we lose then we all go to hell.”
In naming his squad last week, Scolari said he trusted his men and would go “to hell and back” for them if need be.
Scolari knew what he was walking into when he accepted the chance to return to the national side in November 2012, after Mano Menezes was sacked.
At the time there was something of a clamour for Brazil to turn to Pep Guardiola, who was a free agent. That would have been popular with many in Brazil, but instead the CBF looked to native son Scolari.
Ever the pragmatist, Big Phil's footballing philosophy could scarcely be more different to that of the Bayern Munich coach.
Marin, though, has said Scolari is a “great specialist” when it comes to winning the World Cup, and he has already won the Confederations Cup on home soil since returning to the helm.
Born in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, Scolari was a limited player, but he has distinguished himself as a coach, travelling the world over the last three decades.
He has worked in Kuwait, Japan and Uzbekistan as well as having a brief, ill-fated spell with Chelsea five years ago.
That cosmopolitan career path is mirrored in the Portuguese case against him.
Investigators have asked authorities in Britain, the United States, Brazil and the Netherlands for assistance.
Dutch newspaper Financieele Dagblad said Scolari received money from two Netherlands-based companies, which he is believed to have transferred to the US through companies based in the Bahamas and other tax havens.
Scolari denies cheating on his taxes.
“I always declared my earnings in all the countries I worked in,” he said Tuesday.
As a coach, Scolari has not been successful everywhere - Chelsea's demanding owner Roman Abramovich sacked him after just seven months running the English Premier League club.
Nevertheless, he won the Copa Libertadores, the greatest prize in the South American club game, with both Gremio of Porto Alegre and Palmeiras of Sao Paulo, and he took Portugal to the final of Euro 2004 as well as the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup.
Now his mission is clear. “I took on the national side to be champion,” he said after his return. And if he does that, he might even shave off his most prized possession.
“I don't have any authorisation to get rid of the moustache - but we shall study proposals,” he has said.