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Friday 29 August 2014

Mind games reach new high as Scolari studies art of war

Henry Winter

Published 29/06/2006 | 00:11

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LUIZ FELIPE SCOLARI is plotting England's downfall in Gelsenkirchen on Saturday by taking inspiration from a 2,600-year-old book on warfare written by a Chinese general.

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Sun Tzu's famous espousal of the importance of preparation, decisiveness, and selflessness has appealed to Scolari, who has The Art of War as his bedside reading here in Germany.

A familiar tract to many leaders in business, politics, the military and US sport, The Art of War has become increasingly popular in cricket, especially in Australia, and now in football.

West Ham captain Nigel Reo-Coker has been guided by the ancient manuscript's theorising about the need to "know your enemy" and "anticipate their next move," although The Art of War failed to warn him about Steven Gerrard's explosive shooting in the FA Cup final.

The language may be flowery, and focused on battle situations, but coaches of Scolari's calibre are applying Sun Tzu's tenets to sporting combat. When the charismatic 'Big Phil' led Brazil to glory at the 2002 World Cup, evicting England along the way, all of his players had copies of The Art Of War.

Scolari encouraged them to absorb Sun Tzu's teaching that the enemy could be beaten by stealth, speed and, above all, preparation. Scolari's successor, Carlos Alberto Perreira, has continued the book-club tradition and the team's captain, Cafu, is a particular admirer of The Art Of War.

Groundwork is key to victory. "Now the reason the enlightened prince and the wise general conquer the enemy is foreknowledge," writes Scolari's favourite author. "The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand."

An arch-strategist, Scolari has a successful well-rehearsed Plan A, effectively a 4-2-3-1 formation, which his players are highly familiar with. When one player is absent, another fills in, preserving the sanctity of the tactical framework.

Deco's suspension means that Luis Figo becomes the central prong of the creative trident supporting Pauleta. Individual flair, whether Figo's with Portugal or Ronaldinho's with Brazil, is of use only if it assists the collective purpose. Rigorously drilled, Portugal's players march determinedly to Scolari's tune.

As Scolari's beloved book proclaims "officers and men (must be) more highly trained than the enemy", adding: "Without constant practice, the officers will be nervous and undecided when mustering for battle."

Portugal have also been practising penalties, aiming to repeat their Lisbon shoot-out success over England. Sun Tzu would approve of such rigorous training.

A leader's ability to make the right call under pressure is crucial, as Scolari displayed with some of his successful decisions against England at the 2002 World Cup (using the more aggressive Kleberson instead of Juninho) and Euro 2004 (sending on Helder Postiga). "The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim," says Sun Tzu.

Rapid movement is a fundamental pillar in the building of victory, and England will need to stifle the surges of Simao and, if he recovers, Cristiano Ronaldo.

"Speed is the essence of war," says Sun Tzu. "Take advantage of the enemy's unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.

England, vulnerable to aerial assaults from the wide pastures, must beware the deliveries from Simao and, if fit, Ronaldo.

Sven-Goran Eriksson's creative sources, Gerrard and Frank Lampard, can expect to be harried by Petit and Maniche, Scolari's holding midfielders, if Scolari follows Sun Tzu's advice: "When the enemy is at ease, be able to weary him; when well fed, to starve him; when at rest, to make him move."

Targeting England's "centres of gravity", like Wayne Rooney, is also part of the master-plan.

The coach and general should lead by example, setting the tone of sacrifice for the cause.

"The general who advances without coveting fame, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service, is the jewel of the kingdom," proclaims Sun Tzu.

Revered leaders such as Scolari also know when to cosset players and when to give them the flying tea-cup. According to Sun Tzu, "too frequent rewards indicate that the general is at the end of his resources; too frequent punishments that he is in acute distress."

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