Sunday, July 02, 2006

Béla Károlyi and 'Big Phil' Scolari

Béla Károlyi is the famed Romanian and U.S. women's gymnast coach. Though many of his methods (like starving his athletes) are highly controversial, he still has this reputation, aura, something - of being a father figure. Extremely demanding, but still a father figure. And his reputation precedes him. Give him something to work with, and he'll produce a champion - it's as simple as that. He famously carried an injured Kerri Strug to the medal podium in the 1996 Olympic Games, further adding to his 'father figure' and 'molder of champions' status.

To me, he looks much like Luiz 'Big Phil' Scolari, the former Brazilian soccer coach, and now coach of the overachieving Portuguese. Scolari took Brazil to World Cup success in 2002, and he's pushing Portugal through wins, now, in 2006. Sometimes Portugal even looks convincing - like real contenders for the championship. I like the way his players play for him - it's the same way Hiddink's players played for Hiddink, the same way Károlyi's gymnasts performed for Károlyi. A true indicator of the level of quality of a coach, sometimes, when other indicators are not so readily available - are the players giving it their all? Are they, in a word, playing for the coach? Or are they playing for some other cause, maybe none at all? Portugal's players may be playing for more than one 'cause', but one of them certainly is their coach, Scolari.

The father-figure-type persona that Scolari has as head of Portugal is like Károlyi had coaching all his champion athletes. I'm not sure what that 'father figure' quality dynamic is that makes champions, but there it is. Give Scolari something to work with (he has that in Portugal/Figo/Ronaldo/Deco), and he'll produce a champion.

Odd that both their names end in the Italian-sounding 'i'.

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