Talk about a quick fall from grace.
In 2002, Luiz Felipe Scolari pulled off what might be the ultimate high in world sports when he guided his native Brazil to its fifth World Cup title.
He went onto enjoy a six-year stint as Portugal’s boss, taking the Iberians to a World Cup semifinal and a Euro final and quarterfinal.
Prior to this season, Big Phil took Chelsea’s megabucks and was hailed as the guy to get the Blues that elusive Champions League title.
Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. He barely lasted half a season and was gone by Valentine’s Day.
Now the former Chelsea boss is off to Uzbekistan. That’s right, Uzbekistan. On Tuesday, Scolari signed a two-year contract to coach Uzbek champions Bunyodkor.
What’s a guy who’s enjoyed coaching the likes of Ronaldo (the overweight, transexual-chasing Brazilian), Cristiano Ronaldo (the Portuguese dancing mega-metrosexual), Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Frank Lampard and Nicolas Anelka get to work with now?
Try Shavkat Raimkulov, Gocguly Gocgulyyew and a five years ago washed up Rivaldo.
Scolari is following in the footsteps of former Brazil star Zico, who coached Bunyodkor last season and led the club to a league title and domestic cup championship, while also taking the team to the Asian Champions League semifinals last year. Zico quit in December to take the managerial post with Russia’s CSKA Moscow.
At his press conference, Scolari apparently managed to keep a straight face while managing these standard quotable nuggets:
“Uzbek football now creates its own success story, especially Bunyodkor with its remarkable dynamism and prospects for the past four years.
“I know that I am in the right place at the right time and in the right team.”
Big Phil has been quite a bit of a coaching vagabond, and is the definition of a hired gun. Bunyodkor will be his 21st coaching gig since 1982, the year of my birth. Scolari’s retention rate is worse than my second-date chances.
Here’s a quick rundown:
1982 Alagoano (Brazil)
1982-83 Juventude (Brazil)
1983 Brasil de Pelotas (really?)
1984-85 Al-Shabab (Saudi Arabia)
1986 Brasil de Pelotas (again?)
1986-87 Juventude (Brazil)
1987 Gremio (Brazil)
1988 Golas (Brazil)
1988-1990 Al Qadisiya (Kuwait)
1991 Cinciuma (Brazil)
1991 Al-Ahli (Bahrain)
1992 Al Qadisiya (Kuwait)
1993-96 Gremio (Brazil)
1996-97 Jubilo Iwata (Japan)
1997-2000 Palmeiras (Brazil)
2000-01 Cruzeiro (Brazil)
2008-09 Chelsea (England)
Scolari’s most notable managerial contributions have come at the international level.
He got his first national team managing gig in 1990 when he coached the Kuwaiti national team. He led Kuwait to the Gulf Cup of Nations championship with a win of Qatar, but he was forced to leave the country when Iraq and Saddam Hussein invaded during the Gulf War.
He then yo-yoed back and forth between the Middle East and Brazil before returning to international management in June 2001 when he was named the manager of Brazil. Coaching Brazil is akin to another Big Phil. It’s like Phil Jackson getting to coach MJ and then Shaq and Kobe. All you have to do is not get in the way.
However, Scolari inherited a team struggling during World Cup qualifying. He righted the ship and got the world power into the 2002 World Cup despite ignoring national hero Romario’s tearful plea to rejoin the team.
At the 2002 World Cup, Scolari guided the Samba Boys to their fifth World Cup title. He resigned shortly after.
A year later, he resurfaced as Portugal’s manager heading into Euro 2004, which Portugal was hosting. Big Phil got the Iberians to the final, but they highly favored Portuguese lost to Greece 1-0 in the final. Despite the setback, Scolari remained with Portugal through the 2006 World Cup and helped guide them to the semifinals. He stayed with Portugal through Euro 2008, but was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Germany.
Scolari earned a reputation as an English slayer. He bounced the English from the 2002 World Cup, Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup. His record against the English is better than William the Conqueror’s.
Because of his success against England, he was naturally sought after by English Premier League teams. He claimed Manchester City offered him their top gig, but instead he signed with Chelsea, a team one season removed from back-to-back EPL titles.
However, Big Phil’s tenure with the Blues was brief. On Oct. 26, 2008, Liverpool beat Chelsea, ending Chelski’s 86-game unbeaten home streak, a four-year, eight-month stretch. He was sacked in early February after a toothless 0-0 home draw against Hull City.
FC Bunyondkor was created in 2005 as Kuruvchi, which means “builder.” Last year, the team changed its name to Byundokor, which means “creator.” How terribly important.
And there’s no doubting the team’s chairman Isok Akbarov is rather ambitious.
In August, washed up Brazilian Rivaldo left AEK Athens for Bunyodkor on a two-year, $14 million deal. So obviously, the team’s got some scratch to throw around. Last July, the club made headlines when it claimed to be close to signing Barcelona front man Samuel Eto’o. International media outlets laughed at the idea, but then Eto’o showed up in Tashkent at a press conference. During the presser, Eto’o admitted that he had reached an agreement with the team’s vice president.
“There was interest from Kuruvchi. That is one of the reasons I’m here, to get to know the people and all the interesting things about this country.” Apparently, there weren’t enough Uzbeki space bucks to lure the former African Player of the Year.
And while Eto’o didn’t get the chance to get a lengthy education about the Uzbeki people, unfortunately I know far too much about Uzbekistan courtesy of the worst course I ever took in college – Central Asian Explorers (we thought it was Central European Explorers). Now, we’ll leave you with some nice Uzbeki tidbits.
- Uzbekistan’s introduction to Western history was Alexander the Great’s conquest of the region in 327 B.C. Ghengis Khan and Tamerlane had their runs in the 13th and 14th centuries, respectively. Tamerlane is viewed as the Uzbeki national hero.
- The former Soviet republic declared its independence in August 1991.
- Uzbekistan’s economy relies mainly on cotton, gold, uranium and natural gas.
- In Uzbekistan, about 45 percent of the population live on less than $1.25 US a day.
- It is the 56th largest country area-wise in the world and 42nd in population.
- Uzbekistan is a dry, landlocked country. It is one of two double-landlocked countries in the world (a country completely surrounded by landlocked countries.) The other is the powerhouse Liechtenstein. Uzbekistan shares a border with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.
- The nation’s capital is Tashkent.
- Uzbekistan is a supposed democracy, yet since 1990, the nation has known just one President, Islam Karimov. Karimov was elected in Uzbekistan’s first presidential election with 86 percent of the vote. The elections were called unfair with state-run propaganda and a falsified vote count. In 2000, Karimov won an election the United State said “was neither free nor fair and offered Uzbekistan’s voters no true choice.” The sole opposition, Abdulhafiz Jalalov, admitted he entered the race with the sole purpose of pretending the election process was democratic, and that he himself had voted for Karimov.
- Torture is an Uzbeki favorite pastime. Water boarding? Try water boiling. Boiling people to death is one of the more popular Uzbeki tactics. The UN said they found torture “institutionalized, systematic and rampant” in Uzbekistan’s judicial system.
- Uzbekistan has an ethnic Korean population because Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin forcibly relocated Koreans from the Soviet Far East there in 1937-38.
- The country has a 99.3 percent literacy rate among adults other than 15.
- Uzbekistan’s Tourism Bureau’s motto, “Gentlemen and non-men, we bring you Uzbekistan. We’re nothing like Borat and those filthy goat humping Kazaks to the north.”