Iranian football facing foggy future ahead of hectic calendar

Amirhadi Arsalanpour

Staff writer


Back in November, Mehdi Taj, the chairman of the Iranian Football Federation, looked to have all in place regarding the immediate future of the national team before Carlos Queiroz’s side headed to the World Cup.

The plan was to take former Iranian skipper Javad Nekounam to Qatar as an assistant to Queiroz and then give him the managerial role after the tournament, with the Portuguese as the technical director.

It seemed to be an effective scheme as Nekounam has done a decent job while in charge of the top-flight side Foolad Khuzestan over the past few years, while Queiroz, right or wrong, did enjoy an avid fanbase in the country.

However, Nekounam decided to remain committed to his club duty and decline the No. 2 role on Iran bench – which was the first phase of Taj’s plan – before an unimpressive World Cup campaign saw Queiroz massively lose his reputation among the Iranian fans and pundits, not to mention numerous reports have suggested the Portuguese is on the verge of being named the new Qatar manager.

And with a compact calendar fast approaching, no one in the Iranian football apparatus, including Taj himself, seem to have a clue who will be in charge of Team Melli for the next 12 months and beyond.

Same old foreign and domestic candidates – Queiroz, Branko Ivankovic, Amir Qalenoei, Farhad Majidi, Nekounam, and Ali Daei – have been brought up for the role by the federation in the media in recent weeks, but with the next FIFA international break coming in late March, it will be hard to think of a permanent coach making instructions from the touchline, should Iran play in a couple of friendlies as the federation is reportedly planning for.

The AFC Asian Cup is to take place in Qatar later this year – though the exact date is yet to be confirmed by the Asian football governing body – where Iran will be chasing a first title since 1976 and the international windows provide the new coach with the best, and probably only, opportunity to prepare his team for the event.

With an average age of 28.9, Iran had the oldest squad among the 32 teams in Qatar and many argued that the new head coach will be facing a daunting rebuild project for the next edition of the World Cup in less than four-years’ time, but for now, the federation unfortunately does not look to have a clear roadmap for the future of the national team’s bench.

The selection process seems to be yet another sequence in the doomed cycle that began with the appointment of Marc Wilmots four years ago and led to the group stage disappointment in the World Cup.