Who blinked first? Iran and Carlos Queiroz showdown ends ‘amicably’

Babak Golriz 28/04/2015
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The ideal man to take Iran forward.

He’s leaving. He’s staying. He’s gone. He’s back. The back and forth saga between Team Melli manager, Carlos Queiroz, and the football authorities in Iran has (seemingly) come to an end in Tehran. Although it’s not yet clear how many chickens have hatched for certain, the Iran Football Federation (IFF) and the Portuguese manager have both made positive statements confirming a continuation of the relationship. It’s important to note that Queiroz had already been contracted to lead Team Melli until the end of the 2018 World Cup campaign.

– Asia Angle: Uncertain future beckons in Iranian football
– 
Popular and pragmatic, Queiroz right man to lead Iran
– 
Iran’s fanatical support light up Asian Cup

The saga began immediately after the Asian Cup, in the midst of a controversial exit at the hands of Iraq, when Queiroz began to tell those around him including IFF president Ali Kaffashian that he had had enough and wanted to be released from his contract – the caveat being he would not resign in order to avoid paying compensation. At the time, his stock had been as high as ever within the public and most of the media.

The pressure was turned onto the IFF to ensure that they kept him at the helm in Iran’s quest to qualify for back to back World Cup’s for the first time. A similar scenario unfolded immediately after the World Cup in Brazil but at the time Queiroz had firmly wanted to continue his work – rejecting the South Korea national job in the process. At that time, the public virtually coerced the IFF into extending his contract, when it had looked likely that a break was on the horizon.

Interestingly, a third actor, namely the Sports Ministry, has played a crucial role throughout Queiroz’s time in Iran. The Sports Ministry had assisted in funding his lucrative contract, believed to be in the region of Dhs7.35 million ($2m) a year. They were also firmly against extending Queiroz’s contract after Brazil.

Influential figures within the ministry would have preferred an Iranian at the helm and have not wasted time in criticising Queiroz, labelling him as somewhat of a ‘Pied Piper’ and his record as average. The stats and facts simply suggest otherwise. He is Iran’s longest serving manager as well as only three wins from tying Branko Ivankovic as its most successful one. He is also one of four men to lead Iran to the World Cup. The “blame” for the contract extension was laid firmly upon Kaffashian due to publicly calling out the Sports Ministry to take the decision.

In February 2015, sources close to Queiroz confirmed that he had asked Kaffashian for a mutual termination, a fact that led many, including the IFF President, to believe the former had lined up another job. Ironically, Queiroz’s major gripe throughout his reign had been the lack of adequate preparations for the major tournaments, something which had been seemingly addressed to a degree through games with Chile and Sweden in March.

Queiroz publicly stated that too many broken promises had taken place and individuals within the “Technical Committee” of the IFF had insulted him and his staff after the Asian Cup by assessing his reign as a failure so it would be best to part ways. The fact that Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh were “ordered” to represent the Iran Olympic team in March instead of Team Melli in Austria and Sweden looked like the final straw.

The media began to report that Queiroz had resigned and would leave after the two friendlies. However, this was jumping the gun as the “resignation” had never taken place, rather a request to be released from his contract was made.

The worst thing that could have happened, in a way, was Iran comprehensively beating one of the world’s strongest football sides, Chile, having played breathtaking counter-attacking football, probably the best that had taken place during Queiroz’s time.

After the Sweden match in Stockholm, Queiroz opened up to the press at the post-match conference and highlighted his qualms. They included not getting enough support for training camps and friendly matches, as well as naming at least one individual who had been hand-picked by the Sports Ministry to be placed in the IFF in order to monitor their “interests” and oversee Queiroz.

At that moment, the writing was on the wall and Queiroz looked certain to leave. However, neither the Sports Ministry nor IFF would want to do so freely even though many individuals within them would have loved to take the opportunity. Had Queiroz resigned, it is almost certain that it would have been accepted.

Throughout the saga, the players continued the unprecedented public support of the manager. Even the fringe players were vocal. Many talked about Iranian football being in ruins if he is simply allowed to walk away. That assessment is probably a dramatic exaggeration. However, one cannot dispute the progress, especially tactically and mentally, which the national team has taken during the last four or five years. Let’s not forget that this is arguably one of the least talented and ageing Team Melli playing squads in modern history.

On his return to Tehran, under a cloud of unpaid taxes which the IFF had to pay on behalf of the manager, Queiroz, Kaffashian and other influential figures, including those from the Sports Ministry were locked in day-long talks on numerous occasions in order to come to an agreement. At the end it was the Iranians who probably blinked, albeit in their own interests, as they promised to support the national team more than they had in the past. This would include arranging at least 10 friendly matches between now and the 2018 World Cup as well as adequate training camps.

Cynics would argue that Queiroz had never intended to leave his lucrative post but rather wanted a showdown with the Iranians, once and for all, in order to get the sort of support that can only be given by the Sports Ministry, due to its budget, in order to help the side progress, just like the successful volleyball side, which is now considered one of the best in the world (albeit with a budget that is far less than that which is spent on football).

However, a source very close to the Portuguese confided to Sport360 prior to the friendly matches that Queiroz intended to leave the post having been “fed up with the lack of support”. Nevertheless, today, the road ahead looks clearer than a month ago. Queiroz has to lead Team Melli to the World Cup in Russia, play a more adventurous type of game in the process and bring down the average age of the squad if all parties are to part happily in July 2018. If he is successful in achieving that, then there may be a stronger inclination to cap off his reign with an Asian Cup swansong in the UAE a few months later.

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Carlos Queiroz stays on as Iran coach

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Guess who's back? Carlos Queiroz.

The saga of Carlos Queiroz's time as coach of Iran has taken a fresh twist with the Portuguese handler making a u-turn and choosing to lead the team's 2018 World Cup campaign.

– Asia Angle: Uncertain future in Iran after Queiroz departure

– Asia Angle: Talking points surrounding Asian nations World Cup

– Asia Angle: UAE becoming feared force

Queiroz, a former Real Madrid boss and ex-assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, announced last month that, with regret, he was quitting the Iran job, citing unspecified "pressures".

The 62-year-old has since been involved in a squabble over taxes that, days after quitting, saw him stopped from leaving Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport with his players.

But Iranian media reported Sunday that Queiroz will stay for the qualification campaign for the 2018 finals in Russia, ending a battle between the football federation and the sports ministry.

"Anyone who doesn't like this can leave the federation since the ministry has concluded to continue with Queiroz," said Reza Hosnikhu, an official who was picked to mediate the dispute.

"Harmony must now prevail," he told reporters.

Queiroz, who is very popular with Iranian fans, had in the summer before the Brazil finals spoken of not having enough support from the ministry for training camps and other essential preparations.

And Ali Kafashian, president of the Iran Football Federation, on March 20 announced the team's relationship with Queiroz was over after four years in charge.

However, weeks of talks to try and resolve differences have since taken place, leading to a final reconciliation meeting on Saturday, according to the English-language Tehran Times.

Kafashian was quoted in Sunday's edition of the newspaper as saying: "Fortunately everything has been resolved and Mr Queiroz will prepare the national team for the World Cup 2018. Our goal is to reach the last 16."

Queiroz added: "It was a very positive meeting. All of the fans want their team to be in the next World Cup.

"All we need right now is support the federation and the ministry to prepare for big events."

Iran has been placed in Group D of Asian qualifying for World Cup 2018 and will face Oman, India, Turkmenistan and Guam.

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