Sports

Iranian Football in Chaos as Dragan Skočić Gets a Stay of Execution

July 20, 2022
Payam Younesipour
3 min read
Dragan Skočić has been reinstated as manager of Iran's national football team on a technicality three days after his dismissal
Dragan Skočić has been reinstated as manager of Iran's national football team on a technicality three days after his dismissal
Most observers believe Skočić will be removed after the Football Federation board elections on August 30 - mere months before the World Cup
Most observers believe Skočić will be removed after the Football Federation board elections on August 30 - mere months before the World Cup

“I thank the trust of the Football Federation’s Board of Directors. I spent hours and hours to get Iran national football team to the World Cup. Now I want us to prepare for the competitions with unity, solidarity and motivation. The September camp is very important for us, so I ask all Iranians, and those who care about Iran’s sports and football, to support the national team.”

So announced Dragan Skočić after he was reinstated as head coach of Team Melli following a chaotic few months, not all of which was his fault. The Croat had been dismissed just three days earlier in a widely-anticipated decision under pressure from parts of the Iranian Football Federation, the Ministry of Sports and a group of national team players. Then, in a behind-closed-doors meeting, the decision was reversed again.

The reason was the Federation’s charter, which states that without a quorum, its board cannot hire or dismiss managers of the national team. The board currently only has seven members and the minimum for a quorum is eight. As such, Skočić was granted at least a temporary stay of execution.

It comes at a time when the board was already in talks with both Iranian and foreign candidates to replace him. Most prominent among them was Carlos Queiroz, who previously led the team from 2011 to 2019. The Federation was also reportedly in touch with Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who was most recently the manager of Premier League club Manchester United.

Startlingly, the first Iranian that football bosses reached out to was none other than politically outspoken former star player Ali Daei. Daei rejected the offer out of hand. The other name bandied about was Amir Ghalenoei, and Javad Nekounam put his own name forward, going so far as to tell third parties he already had the job in the bag. Simultaneously, assorted Iranian media outlets tried to sell the provably sub-par Afshin Ghotbi as the qualified choice.

 

What about August Elections for the Federation?

Elections for the president and board of the Iranian Football Federation will be held on August 30. The candidates include an ex-head of the Football League, two senior officials within the Federation, a former Cycling Federation Head and a member of Tehran City Council – and of course, Mehdi Taj, the notorious ex-president of the Federation, who most thought they had seen the back of.

Minutes after Skočić was reinstated, Iranian media outlets predicted that his days were numbered: 44 of them, to be precise. As soon as the new board is in place, the widespread assumption is that the quorum needed to oust him will be secured. Some pundits, though, are exasperated at the current stalemate: “He isn’t going anywhere until August”, Nasim Online wrote, criticizing those in charge for what was termed “a self-made crisis”.

The Young Journalists Club, an affiliate of the IRIB, welcomed the prospect of Skočić’s dismissal at the end of next month. “While replacing the head coach is a big risk just two and a half months before the World Cup, we should remember that in the 1998 World Cup, Jalal Talebi replaced Tomislav Ivić just a few days before the contest started... And, in the end, it was under Jalal Talebi that we defeated America.” Jamaran News was blunter, stating frankly that Skočić had not been re-hired but merely “reinstated for 44 days”.

Last week Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Ehsan Hajsafi and Karim Ansarifar, the three captains of the national team, made their personal opposition to Dragan Skočić’s management known. They agreed with other players before them, including Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Beiranvand, that Skočić could remain with them until the close of the World Cup. The striker Mehdi Taremi, however, has said in an interview that he wanted Skočić dismissed at once.

Solidarity between players has always been Team Melli’s winning card. But Iranian top-tier football has rarely if ever been in such disarray. With mere months to go until the World Cup and mutinous feeling mounting among the players, it is not clear who, if anyone, will be able to steer Team Melli into a strong starting position for Qatar.

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