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Following Iran's Asian Cup semi-final loss to Japan, Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz stepped-down from "Team Melli." The former Manchester United assistant coach is set to be unveiled as Technical Director of the Colombian national team.
Arguably the greatest coach to have overseen the Iran national football team, Portuguese anomaly Carlos Queiroz left his post Monday afternoon, moments after his teams' 3-0 loss to Japan in the semi-final of the Asian Cup.
The 65 year-old former assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United posted to his Instagram page, claiming, "The end is here," and citing legendary crooner Frank Sinatra, saying, "I did it my way. Giving the very best of me, with the support of my staff - thank you guys. And gratitude to all you Iranian fans."
Queiroz was a polarizing figure among some circles in Iran, with several media organizations waging a campaign war to have him fired, and replaced by Persepolis coach Branko Ivankovic, who was in charge of the national team between 2003-2006 in a largely forgettable tenure that saw the team crash out of the 2006 World Cup with one point from three games.
National publication Piroozi wasted little time in blaming Queiroz for "Team Melli's" loss to Japan, writing "Awful System. The worst defeat for Iran ever against Japan. The worst defeat of Iran in the Asian Cup" in a distasteful, ill-timed, and factually incorrect headline.
While vilified by the national press, he was largely revered by the Iranian people, not only for the efforts in taking Iran to two World Cup's and for developing some of the finest young talent in the world today, but for fighting for better working conditions for his staff, as well as protecting his players from oppressive sanctions.
One of the most recent examples of unnecessary force was U.S.-based sports clothing company Nike's refusal to provide the team with appropriate footwear for the 2018 World Cup, forcing players to buy their own cleats in the tournament's host nation, Russia mere days before their opening game.
Nike claimed its decision was down to U.S. sanctions, imposed by President Donald Trump, fearing a fine of US$1M and up to 20 years in prison for violation of Trump's policies, which also saw the U.S. withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal between six nations, and Iran. At the time, Queiroz heavily criticized Nike, protesting, "players get used to their sports equipment, and it's not right to change them a week before such important matches."
In late July, RT reported that German sportswear firm Adidas had joined Nike in withdrawing their agreement to support Iran with equipment, which was condemned by the head of the Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI) president Mehdi Taj, who accused Adidas of disrespecting the Iranian people, and demanded a formal apology from the manufacturer.
In an official statement, Taj said: “Given the improper and indecorous step taken by Adidas AG with regards to the sacred name of dear Iran on its website, it is necessary to take prompt and punitive measures against such conduct that violates human rights and sign a contract with an alternative prior to the Asian Cup.”
Queiroz, who won the Supercopa de España with Real Madrid in 2003, not only faced sanctions from abroad, but his own football federation, and had threatened to walk-away at least half-a-dozen times if acceptable working conditions weren't provided for his players.
The issues Queiroz faced included fighting for the national team to fly on private planes, rather than on economy-class, commercial flights. The man who took Portugal to the second round of the 2010 World Cup got his way that time, but was unsuccessful in attaining better training facilities, arguing, "Tell me one national team which goes to the World Cup without enough friendly games, or by using a 60-metre training pitch?"
Furthermore, despite qualification to the 2014 World Cup, the Iranian playing staff weren't paid for their achievement, as FIFA retained Iran’s World Cup qualification money because the banks were not allowed to transfer it into the country.
Despite the harship he, and the rest of the squad experienced, Queiroz sought solace in inspiration, telling G.Q. in 2014 that, “We struggle to travel, to have training camps, to bring opponents, to buy equipment. Even buying shirts is a challenge, but these challenges helped me fall in love with Iran. These difficulties become a source of inspiration to the people, it makes them more united, to fight for their country. These boys deserve a smile from the rest of the world.”
His initial decision to coach Iran was a pragmatic one. Claiming that he see's exactly the same as in any other country – people who laugh and cry, who dance, who sing.
"Football teaches you how much human beings have in common that have nothing to do with any politics or regimes. It’s just a pity that the perception of Iran around the world is not the right or real one, nor the one the Iranian people deserve."
Since taking over "Team Melli" in 2011, Queiroz took them to two World Cup's. In 2014, they held Argentina for 90+ minutes, until a moment of magic from Lionel Messi decided the game. And in 2018, they were within a whisker of topping their group, but Mehdi Taremi's agonizing miss from two yards ensured Iran would only tie Portugal 1-1, finishing third. It was this tournament where Iran picked-up only their second-ever World Cup win, defeating Morocco 1-0.
Since 2014, Iran had only lost five games, and indeed under Queiroz had only lost 13 times, with an impressive win average of 60 percent.
The nation has seen the emergence of talented forward Sardar Azmoun, along with English-based players AliReza Jahanbakhsh, Saeed Ezatolahi, and Karim Ansarifard, as well as Amiens attacker Saman Ghoddos. The team has seen memorable moments, like in the recent World Cup, with goalkeeper AliReza Beiranvand - once homeless, saving a penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo. They have beaten the likes of Bolivia, Chile and Russia, and boast no less than 15 of their current squad playing in Europe's major leagues.
Iran is a country rich in tradition and thousands of years of history," Queiroz says. "My duty was to simply create happiness, fun and entertainment for the people."