The Iranian Football Federation has abruptly appointed Carlos Queiroz head coach of the national team with barely two months to go until the World Cup. The Portuguese coach, formerly of Manchester United and Real Madrid, previously managed Team Melli from 2011 until 2019. His return to the country comes after seven months of internal chaos for Iranian top-tier football, and ahead of the team travelling to Austria at the end of this month for training and two important friendlies against Uruguay and Senegal.
The days ahead are filled with uncertainty. The national team has had a public schism over their future management, and endured months of instability, while the Football Federation is in financial crisis. This weekend, there was a great deal of speculation about how far Queiroz will be able to turn things around in the countdown to Qatar.
The Media Reaction
After news of Queiroz’s imminent return broke last week, ESPN took in Queiroz’s past achievements with Team Melli, his reasons for leaving, how Iran has performed since then and how his return might tip the balance for Iran in the World Cup, where the team will be the “clear underdog” in the opening tie against England.
On the tactical side, ESPN surmised, “Fans hoping to see Iran produce free-flowing football at the World Cup under Queiroz are likely to be disappointed… Instead, they will have someone who has made a career out of setting his teams out to be organised and resolute, while also capable of making the most of their forays forward.”
However, they also noted Queiroz has had a more lackluster couple of years since leaving Iran in 2019. Under his leadership, the Colombian team was knocked out of the Copa America, and out of the World Cup qualifiers after a 3-0 loss to Uruguay, the heaviest home defeat in 82 years. Queiroz then resigned from leading the Egyptian national team after just seven months, having overseen two notable defeats from Senegal in the African Cup and the qualifiers. “Based on his subsequent endeavours,” ESPN wrote, “it is safe to say that his time with Team Melli has been Queiroz's most successful in international football.”
The Colombian sports news platform Bolavip reacted to Carlos Queiroz's return to Iran with a sarcastic tweet: "Whenever you feel disappointed, think of Carlos Queiroz, who, despite failing with two teams (Colombia and Egypt) to qualify for the World Cup, will now lead Iran in Qatar 2022."
Carlos Queiroz: Reasons to be Hopeful
The return to Iran means Queiroz is poised for the historic accolade of having attended three successive World Cups with the same team. But it will also be his fifth coaching experience at the World Cup; he was with South Africa for the 2022 tournament, and Portugal for 2010.
The coming months will likely see Queiroz strive to compensate for the relatively poor performances highlighted by global media in the past few years, and to restore his own credibility. This is a major impetus aside from the competition itself for him to make as much of a success of it as he can.
The Iranian newspaper Akbar Varzeshi (Sports News) reports that Queiroz has been reviewing the recent performance of the Iranian national team and has been following Iran Pro League games for the past month, perhaps aware that if Mehdi Taj returned to the Football Federation he could receive an offer to return.
Another publication, Iran Varzeshi (Iran Sport), which was early on the news that Queiroz would be returning last week, has now written that Queiroz has asked for two players, Ramin Rezaeian and Morteza Pouraliganji, who were not on the list of invitees drawn up by outgoing head coach Dragan Skočić, now be included at the national team’s training camp in Austria. This also suggests that he is not only familiar with the former stars of Team Melli but knows about upcoming talent in Persepolis, Sepahan and Esteghlal.
How Free is the New Manager’s Hand?
To boost the team’s chances of success in Qatar, Iranian media report that the Football Federation has already granted his request to cancel a “mini training camp” that was supposed to take place in Tehran with more than 40 club players – also something that had first been proposed by Skočić.
News outlets with close ties to the Federation president have also announced some other changes to the makeup of the national team. The Federation has rubber-stamped the early return of Mehdi Kharati, who held a number of different operational and supportive roles during Queiroz’s previous tenure.
There are also reports that the Federation is consulting with the Office of the President to help meet Team Melli’s financial needs. On Thursday, a number of players posted the same pre-written text to their Instagram pages, asking Ebrahim Raisi to give the Federation what it asked for. Asked about it at a press conference, Federation president Mehdi Taj said cryptically: “I haven’t seen the players’ [Instagram] story yet, but I completely agree with them.”
One of the Federation’s most important requests is for the cash to finance another serious friendly match on the eve of the World Cup, against one of the top 10 teams in FIFA’s ranking. This could cost two to four million dollars by itself and will be the ultimate test of how far the Federation under Taj has the ear of the government – and the will to provide what Queiroz has asked of them.