“Sack me if [you] don’t believe me!”
No one expected to hear these from Carlos Queiroz in his first interview after coming back to Iran.
Despite Iran’s elimination in the 2015 Asian Cup quarter final to Iraq, Queiroz received a conclusive 87% of the total votes in a popularity poll conducted by Navad, Iran’s most-viewed television program. Although the critics attacked his side’s performance and disappointing results, the Portuguese satisfied Team Melli supporters and appeared hopeful ahead of his next challenge, qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
But the former Real Madrid manager returned from his 40-day holiday to a completely altered landscape. During his absence, the Iran Football Federation (FFIRI) replaced General Secretary Mehdi Mohammadnabi with Alireza Asadi, costing Quriroz one of his biggest allies.
In stark contrast to Mohammadnabi, Asadi is not at all a fan of Queiroz and made no effort to hide it in his first meeting with the Portuguese manager. Some of Queiroz’s critics believe he abused his powers within the FFIRI and dictated policy. In their view, Queiroz’s popularity is due to his populist appeal, and Asadi is part of a group hoping to show Queiroz who the bosses are in Tehran.
In their meeting, Asadi compared Queiroz with Team Melli ex-manager Branko Ivankovic, announced his dissatisfaction with the team’s results, and accused Queiroz’s assistants of making money illegally.
But the Team Melli coach didn’t shirk from confrontation, resisting Asadi’s request that young talents Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh join Iran’s U-23 team for Olympic qualifiers rather than participate in friendlies against Chile and Sweden.
But just some hours before the Iranian New Year, Queiroz announced his surprising resignation and said that the upcoming friendlies would be his last on the Team Melli bench.
FFIRI president Ali Kafashian, who had previously indicated a desire to continue with Queiroz for lack of a better alternative, seemed resigned to the disappointing state of affairs. “We cannot force him to stay,” Kafashian told IRNA.
It’s clear that Queiroz felt that between Asadi’s appointment and new demands regarding player selections, he was to fall under increasing pressure from the country’s Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. And while it’s not the first time that Queiroz’s adventure in Iran has appeared to come to an end, it’s surely the most serious.
“It was not in my control and it was not my decision,” he told Fars. “Even [Kafashian] didn’t want this but unfortunately both sides were forced to agree on this because of pressures.”
If Alex Ferguson’s former Manchester United assistant leaves, the FFIRI will face with a big challenge. Finding a proper alternative for a manager that won over the hearts of million of fans and gained the support of the media will clearly be a tough mission.
Many Iranian managers have dreamed of sitting on the Team Melli bench, but at the same time they know that replacing a manager of Queiroz’s stature and charisma will be very difficult and perhaps even career suicide. Even foreign managers can expect to be compared to the 62-year-old’s reputation with every decision they take.
As his players prepared to depart for their two friendlies, Queiroz was reportedly prevented from leaving Iran by authorities who claimed he still owed taxes. Even as Iran’s coach looked ready for his last tango with Team Melli, it appears as though his detractors are all but ready to end the song as quickly as possible.