“We cannot force Queiroz to stay.”
“Anyone who has a problem with national team manager staying can leave his position.”
“We are the boss, and the foreign coach is the peasant. That is the way it should be, not the other way around.”
“Our national team’s results have not improved compared to 35 years ago.”
These contradictory quotes come from officials of the same organization, referring to Carlos Queiroz, the PPortuguese manager of Iran’s national team. Despite an official agreement between Queiroz and Football Federation of Iran (FFIRI) officials back in April, the above comments appeared in media interviews about the coach in recent weeks.
Despite the looming 2018 Word Cup qualifiers in one month’s time, the future of Iran’s managerial situation could not be more uncertain. On one side of the story, former Alex Ferguson assistant and Real Madrid manager Queiroz s at the peak of his popularity among national team players and Iranian football fans. His official Facebook page is liked by thousands and filled with messages of support. On the pitch, Team Melli’s defense has never been more solid, and the unity between players has never been stronger in the recent history of Iranian football.
Yet that is not enough for Iran’s Minister of Youth and Sports Mahmoud Goudarzi, whose authority over the national team’s decision making has been diminished as Queiroz, as one would expect from any professional European manager, has asserted himself. The 62-year-old does not appreciate meddling in his technical plans and has not hesitated to complain about lack of facilities, visa issues or kit problems when the team trains outside of Iran.
The root of the problem is simply the manager’s foreign nationality, but rather the clear lack of football management authority and competence at the federation level. In the current structure of Iranian sports, the Sports Ministry still holds the right to choose the national team’s manager, and even the managers of popular league clubs such as Persepolis and Esteghlal. That leaves little power for FFIRI bosses, whose competence is also questionable.
In this dramatic soap opera, the Sports Ministry has openly voiced its dissatisfaction with Queiroz and hopes to replace him with an Iranian manager, or for that matter any coach who will fall into line. FFIRI president Ali Kafashian would prefer to keep the popular Queiroz at the top of Team Melli rather than risk the wrath of millions of supporters. But neither does Kafashian want to risk losing his own job as a result of defying the government. It’s a situation in violation of FIFA regulations prohibiting government interference; one would think the Sports Ministry has learned following the country’s brief 2006 ban from international competition.
For now, Carlos Queiroz has already secured a friendly match against Asian Cup quarter finalists Uzbekistan in June. Another friendly match is reportedly planned against Japan later this year. Yet despite an announced contract extension, his future is in limbo and it is not even guaranteed that Queiroz will sit on Iran’s bench in June.
Is this treatment deserved? Of course not. But neither is it surprising. The political machinations of Iranian football are known to all by now, but this time will be different. If Carlos Queiroz gets the sack, Iranian football fans may not stay quiet this time and force a response by FIFA.
Carlos Queiroz’s fate remains as unstable as a boat on a wavy sea. The FFIRI, unfortunately, are as ill-suited to guide that ship through rough waters as they were 35 years ago.