Dragan Skočić, the manager of Iran’s national football team, and Mirshad Majedi, acting president of the Iranian Football Federation, reportedly had a shouting match last week that lasted for more than 90 minutes. Mere months before Team Melli is due to compete in Group B at the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar, consultations are taking place at President Raisi’s office on possibly sacking Skočić and inviting back the former head coach Carlos Queiroz.
Skočić was drafted in in January 2020, after the disastrous Marc Wilmots period. At the time, ex-national team star Ali Daei was expected to take on the role. He later claimed in an interview with ISNA that the Sports Ministry’s security department had ruled him out, adding that an “Aghazadeh” – a “princeling” or child of the elite – had demanded Skočić be chosen. Skočić was by then already manager of Abadan’s Sanat Naft FC.
Hours after those revelations, Mehr News Agency confirmed the decision had been taken in a meeting at a private residence in northern Tehran. Among those present were Reza Faizbakhsh, Skočić’ programming manager, Mahmoud Babaei, a former advisor to Esteghlal FC, and Ali Taj, the editor-in-chief of a sports website and son of Mehdi Taj, former president of the Iranian Football Federation.
The manner in which Skočić was elected shocked even members of the National Football Team. “We were unhappy under the sun, so we deserve the night,” wrote Sardar Azmoun, a striker for the team, on his Instagram page, referring to past criticism of Carlos Queiroz.
Skočić has had a chequered history as a manager, formerly overseeing Al Arabi in Kuwait, which enjoyed some success during his tenure, and Al Nasser FC in Saudi Arabia, which did less well. He lost the latter job after the team lost 1-4 to Isfahan Zob Ahan in the 2010 AFC Champions League. He then returned to Croatia to manage his home club, Rijeka, but struggled to turn the team around and was replaced after just 43 days.
After this trial, Skočić returned to the Middle East to manage Iran’s Malavan football club. He led the club to the seventh place in the Pro League, their best finish since 2005, and then in 2014 was made head of Khuzestan’s Foolad FC. That club fell down the Pro League table and he lost the job, but returned to Iran in January 2018 to manage Babol’s Khooneh-be-Khooneh FC. In his five games as the head coach, the team won a very respectable 13 point. Following a brief six-month spell at Sanat Naft in Abadan, he was gifted the new position with Team Melli.
Dragan Skočić’s Supporters and Critics
The national football team under Skočić has broken an in-house record, winning ten matches in a row. The team qualified for the FIFA World Cup faster than it ever had before, eventually winning 15 of the 18 official and friendly games.
Skočić’s first defeat came when Iran lost to South Korea in Seoul in March. Then a week ago, the team lost to Algeria in a friendly. Despite the overall triumph, a number of the players are against Skočić remaining in post until the end of this year’s contest; after the Algeria match, Alireza Beiranvand, Sardar Azmoun, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Omid Ebrahimi, Mehdi Taremi and Ehsan Hajsafi met with Sports Minister Hamid Sajjadi, who is reportedly lobbying for the return of Carlos Queiroz.
Others including Afshin Ghotbi, a former manager of both the national team and Persepolis FC, support Skočić. The advice he had to offer him, he said in a recent interview, was “Keep a thick skin.”
The alleged shouting match between Skočić and Majedi was reported by Tabnak News Agency. Majedi recently replaced Shahaboddin Azizi Khadem as head of the Federation and, according to Tabnak, Skočić had gone to the federation ask Majedi about outstanding sums of money owed to him. Majedi reportedly told Skočić that he did had not expected criticism by members of the team themselves, and Skočić had shouted back that he had expected to be paid on time.