Scolari shines in China but still eclipsed by Lippi

John Duerden John Duerden

John Duerden compares the record of outgoing Guangzhou Evergrande coach Luiz Felipe Scolari with his predecessor Marcelo Lippi.

It is just over three years since Luiz Felipe Scolari suffered the ignominy of being Brazil coach when they lost 7-1. In a World Cup semi-final. On their home soil of Belo Horizonte. It can’t have been easy bouncing back from that national humiliation.

It is debatable as to whether the soon-to-be 69 year-old has restored his considerable reputation after almost 30 months in China but what is for sure is that fans at Guangzhou Evergrande will be a lot sorrier to see him go than those in Brazil.

The sight of the experienced coach being thrown into the air by delighted players in front of a rapturous home crowd at the Tianhe Stadium, was in marked contrast to the atmosphere at Estadio Mineirao when the Germans ran riot.

Scolari arrived in China in June 2015, almost a year after the World Cup and after a short and disappointing spell in charge of Gremio. It was understandable that he was prepared to head to the other side of the world.

Guangzhou had won four Chinese Super League titles before Big Phil arrived in the city formerly known as Canton. If the Southern China Tigers had obvious appeal for Scolari then the same is certainly true vice-versa.

After Marcello Lippi left at the end of 2014, Guangzhou replaced the man who coached Italy to the 2006 World Cup with the man who captained Italy to the 2006 World Cup.

Lippi left on a high!

Fabio Cannavaro had little coaching experience and the cultured centre-back struggled to keep the tigers as tight as the back as they had previously been. Results were still pretty good but the champions were looking more and more vulnerable.

Cannavaro was fired in early June with players crying in the dressing room upon receiving the news. Scolari was the immediate replacement, charged with tightening up the team.

Perhaps his best move came less than a month after taking the job. He signed Paulinho from Tottenham Hotspur. The midfielder was to become the best and most consistent player in the entire league and was signed up by Barcelona this summer.

Scolari quickly showed his worth on the pitch too. In the 2015 season, Guangzhou were having a real ding-dong with Shanghai SIPG, perhaps their most dramatic title race yet. Shanghai, led by Sven Goran Eriksson were in the driving seat when the two teams met with six games remaining. Had Shanghai won that, they would have been clear with just five games remaining.

Scolari and Eriksson met in the quarter-final of the 2004 European Championships and the 2006 World Cup, as respective coaches of Portugal and England. Scolari triumphed twice after a penalty shootout and also got the upper hand in China. In Shanghai, in front of almost 50,000 fans, Scolari produced a master-class and Guangzhou won 3-0 with the most controlled of performances.

It was the pivotal moment of the 2015 league season and Guangzhou went on to win again in 2016, this time fairly comfortably. 2017 has been completely deserved and rarely in doubt.

The major blot on Scolari’s record is the first round exit in the 2016 Asian Champions League. That almost cost him his job. Losing at the quarter-final stage to Shanghai, now coached by Andre Villas-Boas, this season, despite an almost miraculous comeback was another disappointment.

Three league titles in two and a half seasons and a continental title is a fine record however. It also matches exactly that of Marcello Lippi. The Italian spent the same length of time, arriving midway through the 2012 season and leaving at the end of 2014.

While the records are the same, Lippi will be a little more fondly remembered by fans. This is partly by virtue of being the first elite coach to come to the club as well as China. His arrival showed that Guangzhou were serious and Chinese football was serious. It was a major statement and source of excitement.

And his teams played more attacking adventurous football. There was Dario Conca pulling the strings in the middle, a player who was easy to fall in love with. Elkeson, and Robinho, for a short time, in attack. Scolari was more pragmatic, more concerned with doing just enough to get the win.

It was easier for Lippi. There is much more competition now. Lippi’s Guangzhou won three titles but by the end of his time, other teams were also spending big and hiring world-class coaches. The standard of the CSL is higher now that it was in 2012 when he arrived.

Both Lippi and Scolari were incredibly successful and while their record in the two major competitions that Guangzhou care about is exactly the same, Lippi’s teams will live a little longer in the memory.