Wandering Carlos Queiroz wants Iran to arrive on the world stage
Sir Alex Ferguson described him as “brilliant, just brilliant. Outstanding. An intelligent, meticulous man. He was the closest you could be to being the Manchester United manager without actually holding the title.”
Carlos Queiroz, 63, was twice assistant to Ferguson between 2002-03 (when he left for Real Madrid) and 2004-08. Together they won leagues and the European Cup.
Ferguson sought Queiroz’s advice daily, consulting his insight and wisdom about players in areas of the globe with which he wasn’t familiar.
Born in Mozambique and a polyglot who had worked all over the world at the highest level, Queiroz boasted a peerless knowledge; be it advising Ferguson on how to deal with one of his former students in Jose Mourinho, or recommending players and being instrumental in the development of Cristiano Ronaldo from emerging talent to the best in Europe.
Now he is in charge of the Iranian national side and a hero in the Arabian Gulf country after leading them to the World Cup finals in Brazil. Queiroz has managed in the finals before.
“I coached Portugal to South Africa in 2010, but my grand finale there was strange and sad,” he said. “Spain, our rivals, knocked us out. Realistically, we were unlikely to win against Spain with injuries, but I couldn’t use excuses before the match, it’s not professional.
“And the real Cristiano was not at that World Cup, not in a good shape or form. We expected him to make a difference and he didn’t. With Cristiano playing well for Portugal it was like having 14 players. He’s that good. Only Messi can match him.”
Elimination by a single David Villa goal in the last 16 seemed inevitable, but that was only the start of Queiroz’s problems. He was accused by a Portuguese minister of interfering with doping controls.
Queiroz had been unhappy with his players being disturbed by early morning tests. He admitted using inappropriate language to officials, but denied disrupting tests. No player tested positive.
His anger is still obvious. “The minister accused me, judged me and damaged my reputation. He condemned me before any facts had been proved, turned Portugal against me,” Queiroz said.
He was suspended for six months by the Portuguese Anti-Doping Authority in September 2010 and sacked a week later.
“This was not 1810, this was 2010 in Europe where one person had the power to accuse, judge and condemn. I felt alone, against the system and the country,” he said.
Queiroz appealed to the Court of Arbitration in Switzerland, who overturned his ban. It took him a year to clear his name.
During that year he refused offers to manage other countries until he was exonerated.
Iran approached him and said they wanted him regardless.
Having worked in Mozambique, Portugal (once replacing Bobby Robson), the USA, Japan (as a permanent replacement for Arsene Wenger), the UAE, South Africa, England and Spain, it was exactly the job to satisfy his wanderlust.
“I have the right to be different,” Queiroz said. “When I retire I want to look back at a great life where I’ve worked in many countries. I’ve travelled so much I don’t know where my home is.”
But football as well as travel swayed his decision.
“I watched Iran play Russia in Abu Dhabi to make my analysis,” he said. “I knew that only four teams could qualify for the World Cup from Asia and that countries like South Korea and Japan would be favourites.”
Four from 43 teams would qualify, with another going through two play-off games. Iran were ranked seventh of the 43 and 54th in the world at the time of the draw, yet Queiroz had seen enough in Abu Dhabi.
Group F: Iran preview
“I thought the team were short of international experience and quality, but saw potential to reach Brazil,” he said.
With his loyal American assistant coach, Dan Gaspar, he set about qualification.
“Managing in Asia is very difficult for coaches,” Queiroz said. “Only Japan, South Korea and Australia have a high level because they can invest in and benefit from some players in Europe.
“It will take years to improve, and the distances and travel make things very difficult. For Iran, the team flew commercial airlines to most games.”
Queiroz set about making changes. Small details mattered.
He wanted envelopes with the players’ names, room keys, a daily agenda and their teammates’ room numbers ready when they arrived.
He did not want housekeeping disturbing players in rest time. Or random drug testers. “He has a crystal-clear vision of how things work,” Gaspar said.
“Iran’s president and the football federation understood and helped,” Queiroz said.
“They provided chartered planes for us. We started to win. We would not have been able to perform taking commercial flights. Logistics ruin many campaigns, especially as some rival wealthy countries, like Qatar, can use the best airlines in the world.”
Iran’s World Cup qualification started with a two-legged 5-0 victory against the Maldives, which earned them a place in a four-team group with Indonesia, Qatar and Bahrain, which Iran won.
Queiroz still felt his side were short of experience.
He did some research, speaking to coaches to find out about players with Iranian backgrounds who could play for Iran.
He began to scout in Germany, Belgium and Sweden.
In Belgium, he saw Reza Ghoochannejhad – now at English side Charlton Athletic – come off the bench for Standard Liege. Born in Iran and raised in Holland, he had played for Holland up to under-19 level.
“I’d done a lot of video analysis, but I like to see players in the flesh,” Queiroz said. “I saw 30 minutes of ‘Gucci’. That was enough.”
In Germany, Queiroz watched former German youth international, Ashkan Dejagah, now also in London with Fulham but then of Wolfsburg.
They would become key players as Iran progressed through three stages and 16 matches of qualifying. For the final match, Iran flew to South Korea, the hardest game in Asian football.
A draw would be enough for both teams, providing Uzbekistan did not score five against Qatar.
Iran won. Queiroz was relaxed at the draw in Brazil. He felt he had earned the prize. Iran were drawn with Argentina, Bosnia Herzegovina and Nigeria.
“We are going to do everything to reach the second round,” he said. “People can say this is not realistic, but we need a target.
“We’re not going to Brazil for tourism. We have the opportunity to play the best teams. Imagine how much it would cost us to play Argentina with Messi in a friendly? Now we’ll play them for free.”
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Published: May 31, 2014 04:00 AM