0116 GMT December 09, 2022
When Mehdi Taj was re-elected as the president of the Iranian Football Federation on Tuesday, the lingering question about the immediate future of the national team resurfaced: Will head coach Dragan Skocic still be in charge when Iran kicks off its World Cup campaign against England on November 21?
There has been an ongoing debate on Skocic’s managerial skills ever since the Croatian was appointed to the job in February 2020, when back-to-back defeats against Bahrain and Iraq – under Belgian Marc Wilmots – had left Iran on the verge of an early exit of the Asian qualifiers.
Many believe Skocic has done enough to be trusted with the task of steering Iran against England, Wales, and USA in the Qatar showdown as he came in at the most challenging circumstances to lead the country to the easiest-ever qualification for the World Cup.
His doubters, however, referring to Skocic’s rather low-key CV – including spells at Iranian minnow clubs – say he does not have the tactical acumen for an event of World Cup caliber, not to mention he has been constantly criticized for his lack of control over the dressing room.
Skocic came within inches of losing his job in July when the Technical Committee of the federation labeled him as “unqualified” for the World Cup task, only to see the governing body of the sport, led by then-caretaker Mirshad Majedi – a losing candidate at Tuesday’s voting – announced days later that the Croatian will stay on as the manager.
Taj’s return to fold, however, could result in a twist of events on Iran’s bench in the coming weeks as the chairman’s close bond with former Iran manager Carlos Queiroz is no secret to anyone.
Taj has remained silent on what the future will hold for the national team, but when asked in a televised interview, days before the election, if he would consider rehiring the Portuguese, the controversial Iranian football chief said: “All I can say at the moment is that Queiroz was a successful manager [during his time with Iran] so I’ll seriously think about bringing him back.”
A considerable number of pundits in the country argue that, with one of the finest generations of Iranian players at disposal, the Portuguese has what it takes to lead the national team to a first-ever progress to the knockout phase of the World Cup finals.
Queiroz might actually consider himself unlucky not to accomplish the historic feat with Iran four years ago as a solid defensive performance in Russia saw his team finish a single point short of a top-two finish in a group that also featured European heavyweights Spain and Portugal, as well as African powerhouse Morocco.
If there is to be a change happening in the Iran dugout it will have to come before the upcoming FIFA international break – starting September 19 – when Iran will play a couple of pre-World Cup friendlies against Senegal and Uruguay – the final two outings for Iran before the players regroup a week before the main event gets underway in the Persian Gulf country.