It’s time to make possible the impossible
Carlos Manuel Brito Leal Queiroz said to Iranian media, before the victorious match against Uzbekistan in the 3rd round of qualifying for 2018 FIFA World Cup: it was not just a usual speech during a conference press, as usual, but a clear goal described to his players and fans. The positive trend of National football team of Iran is confirmed in the year 2016 by results: 10 official games with 8 wins and 2 ties, remaining unbeaten since 31 March 2015 (as Team Melli lost 3:1 in a friendly against Sweden, who took the advantage with Zlatan Ibrahimovic).
It was not the first time that the Portuguese head coach has directly spoken to Persian fans: during 2014 FIFA World Cup he inspired a video with members of the National team, where each player stared at the camera saying that it did not matter their stronger group rivals (Nigeria, Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina); but that they stood united, happy or sad, playing for their country and their supporters. At the end Queiroz, too, featured the scene saying
This is what matters.
This video was released before the defeat against Argentina (1:0 golazo by Messi in the injury time) and could be considered a manifesto of his professional and passionate coaching methods: discipline and team spirits.
He had already shown his skills of talent scout and team builder since his experience as Portugal U20 head coach, that he led to two FIFA Youth Championships in 1989 and 1991: he launched talents such as Paulo Sousa, Fernando Couto, Luis Figo, Rui Costa, later called up by Queiroz for the senior National football team.
Born in Mozambico (at that time a Portuguese colony) Carlos Queiroz became head coach of Iran in 2011, as Team Melli were eliminated in the quarter-finals of Asian Cup by South Korea (1:0 after extra time) and had failed to qualify for 2010 FIFA World Cup. Beyond sports affairs, the country was suffering an economic crisis due to UN sanctions.
No coach from a West country would aspire to work in those conditions: refusals by other countries to cooperate between football federations (training camps, friendlies); difficulties in obtaining visas for players and staff; luck of funds and difficulty of sponsorship due to international banking limitations. Despite these problems Queiroz accepted the quest, after prestigious tasks such as Alex Ferguson‘s assistant manager at Manchester United and head coach at Real Madrid. And he obtained results beyond any expectation.
In order to well understand his effort we need to analyze three choices made, sometimes criticized but ultimately successful.
First, scouting for Iranian player born or raised outside of Iran; then, no involvement in the local affairs of football federation and league association; last but not least, continuous changes in the selection, that does not admit irreplaceable members.
Let’s see his management in details.
Before Queiroz‘s appointment, the Iranian squad consisted of only Iranian footballers born in the homeland, that played in the local league or abroad: the first Team Melli player born and raised outside of Iran was German-Iranian Fereydoon Zandi, who played Bundesliga with Freiburg and Kaiserslautern: he was called up by Branko Ivankovic for 2006 FIFA World Cup, and later played in 2007 Asian Cup. When Queiroz became head coach he started to search for professional footballers that were eligible to play for Iran under FIFA rules.
The job was not easy, because some players did not speak Persian or had not even visited the country, like German goalkeeper Daniel Davari and American defender Steven Mehrdad Beitashour: both athletes played qualifiers and were selected for 2014 FIFA World Cup, sit on the bench in Brazil, and then forgotten. A different situation about players born in Iran that moved to Europe as children, like stars Ashkan Dejagah and Reza Ghoochannejhad: they soon became regular in the team and beloved to the supporters.
Although sometimes Queiroz announced his leaving from Team Melli – at least four times his letter of resignation was sent to the President of FFIRI-Football Federation of Iran – and had conflicts with FFIRI, he has always avoided any involvement in questions that were not closely related to his head coach role: on the other side his predecessors (Iranian or foreigner) often took part to local TV shows and sometimes became close to influential people of the national league. Do not be surprised about the fact that this caused sometimes less goodwill or criticism by media or Persian coaches, accusing Queiroz of working not enough or not caring of National football team:
Where is Queiroz? Why we see him in Iran only in time for the matches?”
claims former Iran coach Mohammad Mayeli-Kohan, who launched Ali Daei, Khodadad Azizi and Mehdi Mahdavikia in Iran 3rd place at 1996 AFC Asian Cup.
The answer is very simple because many times the Portuguese coach planned training camps and arranged friendlies but his struggles were frustrated due to lack of funds or last-minute retirement from other squads or refusal by Iranian club to let their players to join the camps.
This was the atmosphere of Team Melli before the Brazilian adventure in 2014: Iran started his training camp in South Africa with just 11 footballers and no goalkeeper so they had to cancel a friendly with Mozambique.
The players selected for Iran improved under the professional aspect, too, paying more attention to their behavior in addition to their talent.
Respect for the group is the main rule, before tactics or technique.
And if you place yourself before the group, you are choosing to be out: talented goalkeeper Mehdi Rahmati and defender Hadi Aghili have been axed since 2013 after they left the squad as they had released that could not be in the starting line-up; Iranian media and also football federation tried to persuade the head coach, but his decision was done.
The impression is that Queiroz knew the gap between senior and other players, and that he personally has changed the situation since 2011:
All players selected have chances to play
declared before the qualifying match against Syria, confirming that there is not a regular eleven in the team at the current time, after he left at home the captain Andranik Teymourian (not very fit) and goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi (still unattached): maybe we will understand these decisions in the future, anyway they can give you an idea about the Queiroz‘s mindset.
Iran progress in the last 5 years is confirmed non only by results: number of goals conceded decreased; professional players that play in Europe increased; the team have climbed FIFA World Ranking becoming 1st in Asia and one of the top 50 in the world. The credit of this progress belongs of course to Carlos Queiroz and his technical staff: professionals endlessly at work from all over the world, each one with well-defined tasks.
Since 2011 Dan Gaspar is not only the goalkeeping coach, first of all he is goalies’ teacher as President of Connecticut Soccer School & Star Goalkeeper Academy: he worked with Queiroz in USA, Portugal, South Africa, Japan; and with Luiz Felipe Scolari and José Antonio Camacho. Gaspar has a relevant role in the improvement of Iranian goalkeepers, more trustworthy than the past: Alireza Haghighi and Sosha Makani joined European clubs, Alireza Beiranvand did not concede any goal in the starting four qualifiers of 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Iranian-American Omid Namazi played an important role for the integration in the Middle East country, thanks to his own experience as player and coach between Iran and USA: he was Queiroz‘s assistant for three years and a half, before being appointed as US youth team coach.
Few months before 2014 FIFA World Cup former Portugal captain Oceano da Cruz joined Queiroz (his former coach at Seleção and Sporting Lisbon) as assistant, especially as talent scout: you can find Oceano watching Iranian youngsters in various matches in Persian Gulf Pro League or abroad. He replaced his compatriot Antonio Simões, who left the post for personal reasons after accompanying the successful qualification.
Another one with a key role in the technical staff is Markar Aghajanyan, Iranian coach of Armenian descent that since the beginning of Queiroz era helped the head coach to discover the country. Recently former captain Javad Nekounam was added as assistant, too.
This international staff counts on Diego Giacchino, an Argentinian physical therapist that takes care of Iranian players since their time in Brazil: he replaced his Brazilian colleague Bruno Mazziotti.
At first sight Carlos Queiroz seems to be very quiet, but his passionate attitude emerged especially during three matches. Iranian fans still sneer as they remember his not-so-friendly gesture against Korean counterpart Choi Kang-Hee at the end of the 1:0 victory at Ulsan, following their provocations in the press conferences.
Completely different the emotion showed after the loss against Argentina as the head coach was angry with Serbian referee Milorad Mazic for not conceding a penalty (Dejagah touched by Zabaleta) and being too permissive with the Albiceleste. And again he was enraged with a referee, Benjamin Williams, after the defeat on penalties against Iraq at 2015 AFC Asian Cup: the Australian official sent off Pouladi just before the halftime, forcing Iran to play with 10 men for 75 minutes until the end of extra time.