Why Scolari is the perfect man to lead Brazil to the World Cup

COMMENT: The extraordinarily popular Selecao coach won the tournament with his country in 2002 and has proven that he is the right man to carry the hosts to victory this summer
By Julian Bennetts in Sao Paulo

Late evening in downtown Sao Paulo and just off Avenida Reboucas a market stall is doing a roaring trade.

Men cluster round, hoping for a piece of the action - and it is only when you look closely you realise they are selling stick-on moustaches, or rather Felipao moustaches.

In modern day Brazil it's not just enough to admire the national team coach, the general public want to look like him too.

His popularity is extraordinary - entirely at odds with the vast majority of his predecessors. It always seems a Brazilian coach is only keeping the hotseat warm but Luiz Felipe Scolari is entirely at ease with himself and his role.

“Am I nervous? I sleep very well,” laughed Scolari as he spoke to the press ahead of Brazil's World Cup opener against Croatia on Thursday.

“I don't know if I do other things well but I certainly sleep well. I will sleep very well tonight.”

One Brazilian journalist I speak to sums him up rather well. Scolari is, he says, a grandfather, a father, an uncle and a friend – it just depends which hat he wants to put on when he is speaking to you.

Certainly the affection the Brazilian squad has for him has been made clear on two occasions this week. Firstly, by the touching way in which David Luiz, Oscar and Fred embraced their coach as he walked onto the training pitch following the news that his nephew had been killed in a car crash.

Secondly, in the way in which he and Neymar high-fived and joked during their press conference. It is a style that Sir Alex Ferguson, say, would not countenance but it is one that is proving rather effective.

There are myriad stories of how Scolari works his charm. He can be a disciplinarian but he understands his players, having been one himself.

An example: during the 2002 World Cup he wanted to bring the best out of Ronaldo, so instructed his midfielders not to fizz through-balls in front of him to run on to but to play them slowly into his feet. As he did so he said – loudly enough for Ronaldo to hear - to 'take it easy on him, he's slow.'

Ronaldo grew angry, worked harder and scored eight goals as Brazil won the tournament.

Yet what is incongruous about Scolari's career is his utter failure at Chelsea. His reign at Stamford Bridge lasted less than eight months amid rumours of dissent from the players, in stark contrast to his success elsewhere.

The Brazilian media still do not fully understand what happened, and Scolari has made it clear he has moved on.

What is unquestionable is that the Brazilian players love him, in part because he sticks by them.

He has his team, his players and he remains utterly loyal to them, with that reciprocated in turn.

There were just seven changes between his Confederations Cup squad of a year ago and this summer's World Cup selection, and of those new boys only Fernandinho is in with a chance of starting.

The perfect example of that is Julio Cesar, who Scolari has kept faith with despite the goalkeeper failing to get a game with QPR before moving to Toronto in the MLS – and it should not be forgotten Scolari hit Serbian defender Ivica Dragutinovic to protect one of his players while coach of Portugal.

Then there is his confidence. He has repeatedly said this will be Brazil's tournament, and he repeated that in the bowels of Sao Paulo's Itaquera Stadium on Wednesday evening.

“To all the people in Brazil, I want to tell you the time has arrived,” he beamed. “We are together and this is our World Cup. My team is ready.”

Scolari, crucially, knows who he is and what he wants, with his calmness permeating through the Brazilian side.

“I try to be the coach I always was,” he says when asked to explain his personality. “I always work this way.

“I was never a coach in a different manner, when I was abroad in a big or small team. I learnt lessons when I was a pro with the excellent coaches I had.

“I am a mixture – a father, an uncle, a friend. That person that [is there when] someone has to speak to someone a bit more harshly; that is when I am a coach, a football coach.

“You have to have leadership, you have to command them [the players]. You study and define situations and take decisions. If you don't take decisions, you can’t work as a coach.”

That calmness and certainty extends to his personal life; Scolari has been with his wife, Olga, for 39 years, and he now has the job he loves.

He has only been in the position for 18 months since succeeding Mano Manezes but it feels like much longer, with his team's identity – they have only conceded two goals in their last seven games – writ large.

On Wednesday, the front cover of local newspaper Diario De Sao Paulo was entirely dedicated to a picture of Scolari. Underneath were the words 'Forca Felipao'.

The most popular man in Brazil could be about to make history – and the sales of moustaches could go through the roof.