The vast biography of Luiz Felipe Scolari will have another chapter on Saturday, with the Copa Libertadores final. In charge of Athletico Paranaense, the coach will fight to be the first to win the tournament ahead of three different clubs. But there is a passage in the gaucho’s career, from almost two decades ago, that is little known in Brazil.
At the end of 2003, Felipão received a survey from Barcelona and said “no”. The Catalan club was going through a turbulent phase after losing 5-1 to Malaga and being defeated 2-1 by Real Madrid at Camp Nou, with goals from Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos. Coach Frank Rijkaard, hired four months earlier, was questioned by fans, the press and members of the board.
It was one of these leaders, then vice president Sandro Rosell, who had the idea. “He wanted to fire Rijkaard immediately after the defeat in Malaga, but President Joan Laporta was against it. The two clashed over that”, recalls journalist Ramon Besa, sports editor for El País, who at the time followed the day. club day.
Rosell’s plan was in place: fire Rijkaard, put former defender Pere Gratacós – then at Barça B – as interim and seduce Scolari to sign the club in January. Even without Laporta’s consent, he got allies to start putting the plan in motion, and got in touch with Felipão. The two knew each other well: Rosell had worked at Nike and had free movement in the concentration camp and in the dressing room of the Brazilian team during the 2002 World Cup.
Despite the friendship, Scolari’s “no” was immediate. He had taken over the Portugal national team at the beginning of 2003, with a contract until the end of the European Championship, in July of the following year. The Brazilian even refused to hear what Barcelona’s financial proposal was: he thanked Rosell for his interest, but said he would not break the agreement with the Portuguese.
Without Barcelona, Scolari’s career continued in Portugal. With him, the team reached the final of Euro 2004, losing the title at home to Greece. With a contract renewed for another two years, he also played in the 2006 World Cup and led the Portuguese team to the semifinals. After being eliminated in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008, against Germany, Scolari finally went to coach a European club, Chelsea.
With the “no” of the Brazilian coach, Barcelona kept Rijkaard. The Dutchman continued in charge of the team, the results began to appear – mainly as a result of Ronaldinho’s adaptation and the arrival of Edgar Davids, who “fixed” the midfield – and Rosell’s speech, which called for a change, weakened. .
With Laporta’s blessing, Rijkaard remained in charge of Barcelona until 2008, when the club decided to replace him with the then inexperienced Pep Guardiola. The Dutchman ended his spell in Catalonia with two Liga Espanya titles (2004/05 and 2005/06) and a Champions League (2005/06).