It’s been more than three months since the 1-0 defeat against USA in the final round of the World Cup group fixtures marked the end of Carlos Queiroz’s second, and ill-fated, reign as the head coach of the Iranian national football team.
In the buildup to the showdown in Qatar, Mehdi Taj, the chairman of the Iranian Football Federation, seemed to have a clear idea of what the future would hold for the Asian powerhouse’s bench after the event: Give Queiroz the technical manager role and appoint Javad Nekounam as the new coach.
But while Queiroz was believed to be Taj’s favorite candidate for the job even after a rather disappointing World Cup campaign – dominated by the off-field saga amid the protests in Iran – the Portuguese decided to go back to the southern coasts of the Persian Gulf and accept a probably more lucrative deal with the Qatar Football Association.
All that has left the country’s football governing body with one of its most daunting challenges in years in naming the new head coach, who will be tasked with taking the national team back to Qatar for the AFC Asian Cup in less than 12 months.
The federation unveiled a list of seven Iranian candidates for the job this week, comprising: Nekounam, who stepped down from his Foolad Khuzestan role last week, Golgohar boss Amir Qalenoei, Farhad Majidi – currently in charge of Emirati top-flight club Ittihad Kalba – Hossein Faraki, who has been without a team for two years, as well as Hamid Motahari, Saket Elhami, and Mehdi Tartar – three managers in minnow sides in the Persian Gulf Pro League.
And while Nekounam and Majidi have been muted on their situation, the rest of the group were quick to decline the job offer for different reasons.
However, what has been, even more annoyingly, evident in the shortlist is the federation’s lack of a clear pathway toward the recruitment of the national manager.
Is a first Asian title since 1976 the top priority for the federation? Or does it have a long-term vision for a rebuild project in the squad – which was the oldest in Qatar – ahead of the Asian qualifiers for the next World Cup in three-years’ time?
That goes without saying that in naming the list, the federation has been approaching seven coaches, whose career, record, and tactical approach over the years have been in stark contrast to each other.
With the shortage of required funding keeping the organization from opting for a high-profile foreign tactician – though former Qatar coach Felix Sanchez’s name has also been brought up in recent days – Taj and his group will likely have to settle for a domestic name before late March’s international break, but to that end, the chairman will have to decide what it is, exactly, that he is looking for in the new manager.