Northern Ireland

Manager 'Big Phil' Scolari makes NI appearance

Luiz Felipe Scolari at the Belfast Empire Image copyright Belfast Empire
Image caption Luiz Felipe Scolari enjoyed a few pints at the Belfast Empire on Thursday night

Northern Ireland is accustomed to flying visits from dignitaries and celebrities, usually travelling under several layers of smothering security.

But a World Cup winning manager on a bus? That's a much rarer sight.

This week legendary Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, best known as Big Phil, has been turning heads popping up everywhere from Londonderry to Belfast.

It's understood sightings have often been accompanied with a muttered: "Can't be him, can it?"

But, yes, it really was him on the 212 bus service from Derry to Belfast, and it really was him drinking Guinness in the Belfast Empire Bar on Thursday night.

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Media caption'Big Phil' Scolari enjoys warm welcome in Northern Ireland

The former Chelsea manager is in the country visiting his son, who works in Lisburn, County Antrim.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Luiz Felipe Scolari with Neymar while coach of Brazil

Zhana Nikolova, a duty manager at the Empire, grabbed a photo with Scolari when he popped in for a blues night with his family.

"We did have an initial thought of 'is it really him?' But the word spread and we realised it was him.

"He seemed to enjoy the music, had a few Guinness and was happy to get his photo taken.

"It's just hard to place someone like that in Northern Ireland. People knew it was him but were very respectful and generally left him alone."

Big Phil is best known for winning the World Cup with Brazil in 2002, and enjoyed a second stint with the national side that ended in 2014.

He is currently managing the likes of Paulinho, Jackson Martinez and Alan Carvalho with Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande.

Image copyright Dylan J Burke
Image caption Fellow passenger Dylan J Burke was surprised to be sharing a bus with a World Cup winner

As a manager in the cash-rich Chinese league, Scolari's yearly salary would be understood to be comprehensive - but that didn't stop him taking the 212 service from Derry to Belfast after a flying visiting to Northern Ireland's north west.

Fellow passenger Dylan J Burke, a Manchester United fan, told the Irish News he was more than a little bit surprised to be sitting beside the Brazilian World Cup winner.

"I saw him and I thought, that couldn't really be him, but then I saw the crest of his current club on his top and I spoke to him," said Mr Burke.

"He was very nice and down to earth. I can't believe I met the great Luiz Felipe Scolari. What a start to 2017."

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