It is four and a half years since Luiz Felipe Scolari left Chelsea but he is keeping a closer eye on the club than ever. He has a World Cup on home soil to prepare for and four players from the London club – Oscar, David Luiz, Ramires and Willian – could well be in his final squad; and then there is the small matter of José Mourinho.
Last month the Chelsea manager hit out at Neymar after the Barcelona forward had been involved in an incident that led to Celtic's Scott Brown being sent off. Mourinho called the Brazilian's actions "sad", adding: "I have told the players many times, I hate it [diving]. It is very bad. And the search of a red card for another player is a disgrace."
Scolari, as we meet for an exclusive interview, is still not happy with the Portuguese's remarks. "Every manager likes to use the media to their own benefit and Mourinho is doing just that," he says. "He knows that Chelsea could play Barcelona in the Champions League sooner or later and he is already putting supporters, media and referees against Neymar. It's disappointing and Mourinho didn't really need to resort to that. Maybe he knows that Neymar is now at the same level as Cristiano [Ronaldo] and [Lionel] Messi and can really hurt his team."
In addition, one of the Scolari's first-choice central defenders, David Luiz, has not been able to secure a regular starting place under Mourinho. That, however, seems to concern the 65-year-old less.
"I have spoken to David about it [the lack of appearances] but I am not worried. He is one of the best defenders in the world and Mourinho is an intelligent guy. He won't leave a player like that on the bench all the time. If the worst comes to worst, David will arrive fresh and rested for the World Cup," Scolari says with a smile. "We [Mourinho and I] get along but I find Mourinho's crusade against Neymar absurd."
It is not only his relationship with Mourinho that is a little strained but his love affair with Chelsea suffered somewhat when he was sacked after seven months in charge. He had been the first Brazilian to take charge of an English top-flight club but the experience left him bruised and his next job after Chelsea wwas with Bunyodkor in Uzbekistan – not exactly where you expect to find a World Cup-winning coach.
"I was upset by the way my departure from Chelsea happened," he says. "I was being honest with the club in everything I did. We were doing reasonably well on the pitch. I wish my work at Chelsea could have lasted longer, especially because I was prepared to spend at least two or three seasons in London and experience the Premier League and Champions League football."
And it had started so well at Chelsea. His first league game was a 4-0 victory over the FA Cup holders, Portsmouth, Joe Cole, Nicolas Anelka, Frank Lampard and Deco scoring in a free-flowing performance. In fact Scolari won nine of his first 12 games, drawing the other three as his attack-minded Chelsea wooed neutrals and the media alike. There was a 3-1 win at Manchester City, a 4-0 humbling of Bordeaux in the Champions League, another 4-0 win against Pompey, this time in the Carling Cup, and a 5-0 destruction of Middlesbrough at the Riverside.
Then the whole adventure unravelled. José Bosingwa scored an own-goal after 10 minutes as Chelsea lost 1-0 at home to Liverpool on 26 October and there were further defeats against Roma, Arsenal, Manchester United and then Liverpool again before Roman Abramovich had seen enough and released Scolari of his duties in early February 2009.
He has vented his anger over what happened at Chelsea before, mentioning Petr Cech, Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba as the players he struggled with, but he does not want to single out anyone when we speak. "A few players did not agree with the decisions I had to make for the good of the team. I heard them complaining and saying: 'I don't play in this or that position.' Never mind the fact that one of the players I had put into the first team was actually one of the league top scorers at that point."
There is the obvious nod towards Drogba not being happy with Nicolas Anelka being preferred to play up front but it was the fact that the Chelsea hierarchy appeared to side with the players and not the manager that hurt Scolari most. Despite this, though, the Brazilian would be open to a return to England, and even Chelsea. As things stand, he does not rule out a return to Europe at all.
"If I had to return, I would do it. Chelsea are an spectacular club and I still want them to do well. The supporters are amazing and even though things didn't work out I still remember how nice the fans were to me."
The move to Uzbekistan in 2009 was left-field but a tactic employed while waiting for another European club to seek his services. But the right offer never came and, when his wife demanded they move back to Brazil, they did just that and Scolari took the job at Palmeiras in 2010. "I can't complain too much," he says. "What happened in England was a disappointment but my life changed for the better and I will have the honour of managing Brazil in our home World Cup. That is an improvement in my book."
Scolari, however, is pleased that so many of his players are playing in the Premier League and is not concerned that they will be worn out by next summer, when he is under pressure to deliver a World Cup on home soil, something Flávio Costa failed to do the last time the tournament was held in Brazil, in 1950.
Tottenham Hotspur's Paulinho and Liverpool's Lucas Leiva will also be in Scolari's thoughts but he says: "I don't worry about my players playing in the Premier League. Brazilian football has the best fitness trainers in the world. Paulo Paixão, who works with me, makes sure the boys are ready to go when it matters. It's true that Oscar was quite jaded when he arrived for the Confederations Cup but we had over two weeks to recover him."
Scolari does agree, though, that the absence of a winter break in the Premier League makes things harder for him and other international managers. "But it's a difficult thing to change now when the English clubs make so much money on matchdays."
The Brazilian, who also took Portugal to the finals of Euro 2004, is surprisingly upbeat about England's chances at next year's tournament. "England are one of the teams who could shine at the World Cup," he says, having failed to beat England twice this year. "Roy [Hodgson] is doing a great job in bringing new players to the team and is overseeing a generational change. England have a good team and I think they are much better technically these days.
"People say I'm a specialist in defeating England but the victories with Portugal against them in Euro 2004 and in Germany in 2006 were on penalties, really tight games [he also beat England with Brazil in 2002]. You know how tense shoot-outs are. I think England are missing the confidence to take that step that finally puts them among the top four."
And he does admit, however, that other teams are currently at a superior level. "As the current European and World Champions, Spain have to be considered the best in the world. I am also impressed by Germany and Argentina. Holland could be a threat and Belgium have been one of the best teams of the European qualifiers. It's an open field for the World Cup."
Scolari is not fazed by the daunting statistic that only Italy's Vittorio Pozzo has been able to win two World Cups as a manager and that was more than 70 years ago. Other Brazilian managers have tried, with Mario Zagallo, the 1970 manager, reaching the final in 1998. "If I feared challenges, I wouldn't have achieved anything in my career. Winning or losing in 2014 will not erase the title I helped Brazil win in 2002. The players know they will have to win the World Cup. We can't play a tournament in Brazil and think that second place will do. If we are not good enough we will lose but if we work hard, as we have been doing in the last months, I can see us challenging for the title."
Scolari and the Seleção were criticised for some of their first performances after he had returned but there has not been much said against the manager or the team since a Neymar-inspired 3-0 win over Spain in the Confederations Cup in Rio last June. On Saturday they beat Honduras 5-0 in their final game before the World Cup draw on 6 December.
This squad, however, is much different from the one Scolari took to the top of the world in 2002. It lacks the experience of the kind Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos had 11 years ago and the fact that they have not played competitively in qualifying has not helped. "Indeed they are less experienced," Scolari says. "But their technical ability and their physical prowess enthuse me. We need to take a moment when drawing comparisons. The 2002 Seleção was more seasoned and had quality players but not even Ronaldo and Rivaldo could do things on their own. Of course, the 2014 team will be judged by their results but these boys have shown that, if they work hard, as they have been doing, we can beat anybody."
It is difficult not to return to the memories of the game against Spain and the Maracanã. "I have always tried give Brazil some kind of European organisation and that led to a lot of people criticising me at home," he says. "But the fact is that we need to be organised for our differentiated talent to make a difference. I don't think we play like Germans. Under Pep Guardiola Barcelona put a lot of pressure at their opponents, suffocated them, for example. I am not ashamed at all of copying what contributes to good football."
A proud southerner, Scolari defends the style clubs from that area are famous four. "I grew up with the Gaucho style. We are organised and like possession but we never really forget to defend as well. It's not for me to say that my attacking players shouldn't forget to actually be creative," he says.
Scolari's job has been made harder by the turmoil in Brazil. Their exploits on the pitch in Fifa's test events were marred by violent clashes in several cities, with the cost of the World Cup a prime target for protesters whose agenda had topics as diverse as political corruption and police brutality. Just as in June, he distances himself from commenting. "As the national team manager, I do not have to get involved. But no player was prevented from speaking and several commented on the protests. But I do think there's some prejudice towards Brazil."
He is also defensive when it comes to the criticism Brazil have come in for. "London was burning a year before the 2012 Olympics and still hosted successful Games. There was also a lot of public money spent on the Games but people focus only on Brazil. will give you that: the World Cup will not change Brazil but it is something that can help us move forward."
Change or no change, Scolari has only one aim and that is to win the World Cup. And even to have that aim is pretty remarkable considering the events at Stamford Bridge four and a half years ago.