By James M. Dorsey
Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz will travel to Tehran later this week to finalize his contract as Iran’s new national coach after pro-longing negotiations for weeks to monitor whether anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East would also shake Iran.
Queroz started talks with Iran in February at a moment that opponents of the governments were calling for mass protests in the country. In response, the government temporarily suspended professional soccer matches in the capital Tehran. Government repression stymied the protests before they were able to gain momentum.
State-run Iranian Press TV said agreement with Queiroz was facilitated by the fact that the Portuguese anti-doping agency had lifted its six-month suspension of the trainer for insulting anti-doping agents. Queiroz was sacked as Portugal's national coach as a result of the ban.
Queiroz was Sir Alex Ferguson's assistant manager at Manchester United before becoming Portugal's head coach.
Queiroz initially turned down Iran’s offer of a three-year, $6 million contract citing family reasons. Iranian officials said Queiroz’s wife did not want to live in Iran, a country that imposes strict conservative mores on women in public.
Iran’s persistence in pursuing Queiroz is likely supported by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has taken an active interest in recent years in the appointment of national team’s coaches. Ahmadinejad sees the team’s performance as a key tool in garnering popularity.
Soccer analysts believe Queiroz could indeed make a major contribution to the Iranian team, which like all other Middle Eastern squads, performed poorly at this year’s Asian Cup.
“It seems to me that Queiroz honestly wishes to do some bottom up constructive work. His ideas are the most comprehensive I have heard from any coach or candidate for the Team Melli (the Iranian national team’s nickname) job in recent years,” said prominent Iranian soccer blogger Afshin Afshar said.
James M. Dorsey is a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer