Luiz Felipe Scolari has claimed that Nicolas Anelka’s refusal to play on the wing was the primary reason for his sacking by Chelsea in February 2009.
Scolari was dismissed by Roman Abaramovich after just eight months in the job with Chelsea fourth in the Premier League, and the club saying in a statement that “the results and performances of the team appeared to be deteriorating at a key time in the season.”
Chelsea remained in the Champions League and FA Cup, but had exited the League Cup on penalties to Burnley and failed to win any of their six Premier League matches against Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, amid reports of tensions with senior players and claims that Scolari’s poor grasp of English was undermining his effectiveness.
Scolari, however, says that it was his unpopular instruction for Anelka — who had started the season impressively as a No. 9 — to play from the left once Didier Drogba had returned from nagging knee injuries that ultimately sealed his fate.
“I had Anelka playing as centre-forward. Top scorer in the league,” Scolari told ESPN Brasil. “The players return, I make a meeting, and in the meeting I say: ‘Look, now that the players have all returned, Drogba is back after two months, we will try to work a situation involving the two strikers playing one by the side, one in the centre, changing positions.’
“Then Anelka, the league’s top scorer, who had been a reserve all the time but had started [during Drogba’s absence] said: ‘I do not play on the wing.’ Well, that’s when I said: ‘You don’t play on the wing, you are surplus, it’s over. I’m not going to stay here arguing with you guys. I’m trying to come to an understanding and you are unwilling.’ And there began a series of other things.
“I left there and our team was third in the league, three or four points behind the top. Qualified for the semifinals of the [FA] Cup and round of 16 or quarterfinals of the Champions League. But there was this bad environment, that situation.
“I don’t know if I had continued what would have happened. But it was interrupted. There, I got upset.”
On the suggestion that his limited English played a role in his demise, Scolari added: “They’ll say: ‘Oh, because you didn’t speak English perfectly.’ Of course, I did not. I didn’t speak English perfectly. But they understood me perfectly.
“We understood, with my English, and the English that was spoken there, we understood perfectly.”
Guus Hiddink was chosen as Scolari’s interim successor and led Chelsea to a third-place finish in the Premier League and the brink of the Champions League final before a controversial defeat over two legs to Barcelona. He did, however, claim silverware in the form of the 2009 FA Cup.
Scolari has not managed a European club since Chelsea, his most high-profile job coming in the form of a second spell in charge of Brazil heading into the 2014 World Cup on home turf, where they were humiliated 7-1 by eventual champions Germany in the semifinals. He had previously guided his country to World Cup glory in 2002.
ESPN FC’s Spain correspondent Adriana Garica contributed to this story.
Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.