Iran turn to former United man

Lack of patience will test Queiroz

April 12, 2011
By John Duerden
(Archive)

It all sounds a little familiar - a former head coach of Real Madrid and a powerful European national team heading to Asia for a lucrative contract and a job remit that is all about bringing World Cup success to a continental powerhouse. Before he arrived in Iran last week, Carlos Queiroz perhaps should have dropped Guus Hiddink a line.

Carlos Queiroz: A poisoned Persian chalice, but a lucrative one nonetheless
GettyImagesCarlos Queiroz: A poisoned Persian chalice, but a lucrative one nonetheless

There is excitement in Iran at the appointment of the former Manchester United number two. The Iranian Football Federation (IFF) has found that attracting big-name foreign coaches is not easy. When the vast majority of headlines about your country in the western media are negative then even offering big bucks is not always enough. "If you think that I am asking my wife to live in Tehran then you can think again," said one high-profile coach when sounded out about taking over the job a few years ago. Since November when Afshin Ghotbi announced his attention to step down after the Asian Cup in January, the IFF was determined that this time there would be no misunderstandings, let-downs or broken promises.

The result is Queiroz. The list of workplaces on his resume may be more impressive than his achievements while in the Madrid and Lisbon hotseats but few in Asia can match such experience even before you talk about stints in Japan, UAE and especially South Africa - where he led Bafana Bafana through qualification for the 2002 World Cup only to leave his post just weeks before the kick-off in Seoul.

If the name is big so is the job. Team Melli is the pride though not always the joy of eighty million Iranians desperate for glory. If he can lead Iran to Brazil in 2014, he will have the gratitude of all - even the women who are not allowed into the stadiums. If he can actually deliver success at the tournament, which would mean a first-ever progression to the knockout stage, then he would be a hero, rivalled in continental terms only by Hiddink.

Iran wants such a figure after witnessing Korea and Japan, helped in part by foreign coaches, excel on the world stage in the past decade, hosting World Cups, reaching semi-finals and knockout stages, sending players to a myriad of European leagues, winning Asian Champions Leagues and in Japan's case, winning four Asian Cups since Iran last lifted the trophy in 1976. There are wise heads that acknowledge the fact that Iran has slipped behind its eastern rivals and that the new man needs to be given time and understanding from the media and support from the IFF to do what needs to be done.

The first is not going to happen while the second remains to be seen. The press is something to behold when it comes to the beautiful game. Imagine if the notorious British tabloids tripled in number and operated in a tightly-controlled environment in which football is one of the few subjects that can be written about freely. Carnage would result, and does in Iran.

Even this writer has a little experience with the Tehran media with comments attributed to me that that I never said, completely new sections added to the translated versions of articles I had written or interviews I had conducted and other articles or interviews translated in a way that totally transforms the meaning of the original. If that can happen to a humble sports writer from Blackburn, Lancashire, then just imagine what can happen to people that really matter. It is fortunate for Queiroz that there is widespread approval of the appointment but it won't last long past the first, or possibly the second, bad result. It is also fortunate that he won't be able to read it. Many imported coaches around the world have recognized the benefits of not being able to understand the headlines aimed at them.

The IFF needs to be a more positive presence and perhaps the large amounts of money he is supposedly receiving, with a reported $2 million a year mentioned, will help administrators focus on helping their investment. But this is not a given. The federation has a reputation for incompetence and a lack of professionalism that is not completely undeserved.

These are just some recent examples: the sorry saga of the non-appointment of Javier Clemente early in 2008; the lengthy list of cancelled friendlies; the surprise decision to give the job to Ali Daei in March 2008 just three weeks before the final round of qualification started for South Africa; the switch to Daei from Ghotbi just an hour after the Iranian-American had been notified that the job was his; the subsequent sacking of Daei with three games remaining; the appointment of Mayeli Kohan who lasted all of two weeks; the belated turn of Ghotbi who was then the subject of almost constant briefing to the press about the famous people who were being lined up as his replacement and the suspension by FIFA due to governmental interference in football. And that is just some of the big stuff.

While there is already talk of legacy and long-term building for the future, vital for Iran, these are not things that Queiroz should worry about too much. It is better for the former Manchester United assistant to focus on the national team only. It is not his problem that the clubs are all owned directly or indirectly by the state, that the levels of professionalism in the league leave much to be desired and that investment in facilities and youth development over the years mean that Iran is not the power it once was.

Queiroz needs to keep it simple and focus on building a team. There is talent in Iran. You can be sure that, if he hasn't already, the former Real Madrid boss will be soon talking to Javad Nekounam, the captain of the team and a stalwart for Osasuna in La Liga. The midfielder is a quiet thinker off the pitch and a fierce leader on it. The "Prince of Persia" can be Queiroz's Hong Myong-Bo and if the coach can also figure out how to get the best out of Nekounam's club-mate Masoud Shojaei, a talented player who is not quite as good as he thinks he is, then already he will be on the right track.

Javad Nekounam: Queiroz will need the Osauna mainstay to live up to an exalted reputation
GettyImagesJavad Nekounam: Queiroz will need the Osauna mainstay to live up to an exalted reputation

He may not find a golden generation to rival the likes of Luis Figo and Rui Costa when he was head coach of Portugal's Under-20 team two decades ago but there is enough young talent to excite as was hinted at during the recent Asian Cup. Arash Afshin and Karim Ansarifard in attack are still raw but have potential to be stars. Ehsan Hajsafi has been moved to left back but a nickname of "Iran's Fabregas", a throw-in to rival Rory Delap and almost 40 appearances for the national team despite being still 21 are just some of the reasons why he has already interested a number of European teams.

In the end, Queiroz will be judged on the World Cup. The first qualification match for 2014 comes in September against the Maldives. He should be careful. Humberto Coelho was another high-profile coach from Portugal who tried to follow in Hiddink's footsteps though in a more direct way than Queiroz. Coelho took his South Korean team for a World Cup qualifier on the South Asian island nation in March 2004 and left with a goalless draw and his tail between his legs. A month later, he was out of the door.

Between the extreme examples of Hiddink and Coelho there are a myriad of possible outcomes and seeing which one Queiroz ends up at is going to be fascinating because if nothing else, the one consistent fact about Iranian football is that you never know what is going to happen.