Despite being vilified for Brazil’s 7-1 nightmare loss to Germany, Filipe Scolari is back in business and trying to lead Palmeiras to Copa Libertadores glory
Few clubs in South America have SE Palmeiras’ potential. In a recent financial study, the Sao Paulo-based club figured only behind city rivals Corinthians in the list of the top 50 richest clubs on the continent.
They have one of the most modern stadiums around – the 43,178 capacity Allianz Park and an occupancy rate of 71% that is admirable in South American football.
However, few clubs in South America are so complex like SE Palmeiras, where supporters’ pressure and internal politics are behind what we can be considered a pretty underachieving record. Between back-to-back “Brasileirão” titles in 1993-1994, it took the club two decades to finally follow up with another national crown in 2016.
Reasons for optimism for Palmeiras
This year, nonetheless, supporters of “Verdão” (Big Green, an allusion to the club green and white crest) are excused to feel excited: Palmeiras are top of the table in the league and this Wednesday will go to Buenos Aires for a mouth-watering Copa Libertadores semi-final tie against Boca Juniors.
The dream of their second continental title is alive. But perhaps the biggest surprise is that they once again have Luiz Felipe Scolari at the helm – indeed he conducted them to the 1999 Libertadores title, but the most recent memory was a shambolic campaign that ended up with relegation to the Second Division in 2012.
Few managers in the world have been so vilified as the man in charge of Brazil during their painful 2014 World Cup campaign, marked by a humiliating 7-1 home defeat to Germany in front of a home crowd. That game managed to eclipse Big Phil’s wondrous masterminding of the 2002 title with Brazil, a record fifth crown yet to be matched.
Big Phil indeed went on to do a decent job in China, winning Chinese League titles and the AFC Champions League with Guangzhou Evergrande. But his return to Palmeiras smelled much more of desperate nostalgia than anything else.
Scolari fighting for double with Palmeiras
Since taking over in July, Scolari has reinvigorated Palmeiras. He sorted our defensive problems and got the frontmen scoring again. All that without trying to reinvent the wheel: his tactics are more based upon stamina than invention – in fact, he is using the same 4-2-3-1 formation deployed during the 2014 World Cup.
“When I left Guangzhou there were three national teams after me, but Palmeiras needed me. I have always felt at home here. I didn’t spend time worrying about what happened in the past. My job was to get Palmeiras united,” he said right after taking over.
He had special words to discuss THAT defeat.
“Brazil last won the World Cup in 2002 and I was there. We reached the semifinals in 2014 and not even the 7-1 will change that. That defeat was abnormal, but it happened. But just like I didn’t win on my won in 2002, I didn’t lose alone in 2014.”
Suddenly, even some of Big Phil’s biggest critics had to applaud the job he’s done so far. “He doesn’t look like the guy on the dugout four years ago,” said Juca Kfouri, one of Brazil’s most celebrated commentators.
Yes, it could all change if Palmeiras crash and burn against Boca or fail to regain the Brazilian title. But Big Phil has already ensured defying extinction in a way many people didn’t think was possible.