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Scolari charms to take top billing

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Phil McNulty | 17:16 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008


Luiz Felipe Scolari arrived between adverts for a "Legends Of Swing Tribute Night" and a Tom Jones impersonator - but there was only one man claiming top billing at the hotel in deepest Cobham.

And that was Chelsea's new coach as he capped his coronation with a glittering performance of charm, passion and a command of the English language that made mugs of us all.

Scolari pitched his arrival neatly between the swagger and self-confidence of Jose Mourinho and the under-stated humility of Avram Grant.

It was a combination that worked to perfection and made this a very good day for Chelsea's hierarchy, who sat and looked justifiably elated with their new man's first public outing.

Scolari cut a calmer figure than when I have seen him previously, stripped of his trademark tracksuit and encased neatly inside a smart suit and club tie.

He arrived to the predictable barrage of flashbulbs - and kept a surprise up his sleeve for when the cameras went away.

Scolari not only answered questions directly and almost always unhesitatingly, he answered them in excellent English, a skill he has shrewdly kept under wraps until he needed it most.

He had a female interpreter on hand for help, but she was not needed until he was tested with a question about whether he would like to see Cristiano Ronaldo leave Manchester United.

Scolari, perhaps sensing dangerous territory, checked the wording before delivering a most emphatic denial that he had ever interfered in Ronaldo's decision-making process - an answer that may, or may not, allay any suspicions harboured by Sir Alex Ferguson.

He still had all the glorious wild facial expressions and tic-tac hand movements that made him such a colourful figure as coach of Brazil and Portugal, but it appears he keeps his full fire for the touchline.

Luiz Felipe Scolari

And as he gained in confidence, the eyes danced a little more and the hands waved with greater animation, a sign of the true Scolari perhaps.

He laughed off the idea of pressure with the words "when you are coach of Brazil...." and claimed the only heat he felt was coming from his need to show off his grasp of English under the public gaze.

It was so good he even found time for a joke against his interpreter when she hesitated over a translation.

"She is more afraid than me," he said in a flash - so much for the man we so ignorantly announced might struggle to leap over the language barrier.

There was none of the bluster I had witnessed from Scolari at close quarters with Brazil and Portugal. He was composed, assured and confident.

The Scolari I saw in Japan, Portugal and Germany appeared to be a man on the edge, capable of grand gestures and indulging in melodrama - including once offering to marry the entire Portugal FA - metaphorically speaking of course.

He was also a man of the people. I well recall the contrast between Portugal's humble media base when they were the host country and the circus of self-importance that trailed along in England's wake.

Visitors, particularly youngsters, were welcomed by Scolari and he showed a genuine common touch that I believe will appeal to Chelsea's supporters as he grows into his new job.

Of course there was also that madcap edge to his character, but let's not carp about that - let's embrace it as another great addition to the Premier League.

Here is a man Ferguson will not bully or psyche out. He's seen the old tricks before and has used a few of them as well.

But here we had Scolari the serene, Scolari setting out his hopes and ambitions for his new paymasters and supporters.

This did not look like a coach who cuffed an opposition player - this was a coach with a clear vision for Chelsea, but there lurked the underlying threat that this was a man with an unmistakeable winning mentality.

Of course he spoke of the "beautiful football" that owner Roman Abramovich (or "Mr Roman" as Scolari called him) wants to see at Stamford Bridge, but he was quick to remind us of his pragmatic side.

Scolari, above all, wants winning football and will adopt whatever tactics it takes to get it.

He was not simply on a charm offensive, he was full of positive news for Chelsea fans who wanted a check on the futures of their star players.

Frank Lampard wants to stay for years. Didier Drogba was "200%" part of his plans. John Terry was his captain. Lampard was not just staying, he was still vice-captain.

And of course, correctly, he announced he was indeed "The Special One." And as a World Cup winner with Brazil in 2002, why shouldn't he be?

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However, unlike the great Jose, he was not a special one to himself, Scolari was special for his friends, family and country.

And his country had come to Cobham to see him in the shape of Brazil's media, along with representatives from Portugal, Spain and Italy.

But is he special as a coach? "So so" said the Modest One.

This was a big day for Chelsea and one they can be pleased with. They needed good news and a fresh start after ending last season empty-handed and receiving criticism for the ruthless sacking of Avram Grant.

Scolari's performance provided it and Chelsea's top brass looked suitably pleased.

Chief executive Peter Kenyon and members of Scolari's backroom staff - including the surviving Steve Clarke - took front row seats with the media and left the top table spotlight to Scolari.

He basked in it comfortably and Chelsea will now hope he will adjust as quickly to the heat of Premier League battle against the men who will be his closest adversaries, Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.


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