Interview: Dragan Skocic-Sportske Novosti

How do you feel a month and a half after leaving the post of coach of the Iran national team?

I feel good, I am slowly returning to normal after the obvious injustice that was done to me and my staff. They took away the World Cup from us, but they can’t take away from us the fact that we have achieved the fastest qualification ever for the World Cup in Asia, with the most wins and points. From the 33rd place in the FIFA ranking, we promoted Iran to the 22nd place and made Iran the first national team in FIFA ranking in Asia. Considering the fact that we didn’t even start from the scratch, but from below zero, it’s harder for us to understand and accept all that happened, but life goes on.

Can you briefly explain to us how you were informed that you are no longer a selector?

After Mehdi Taj was elected president, they told me that they no longer count on me. The president, who previously collaborated with Carlos Queiroz, announced that if he wins the elections, he will hire the same coach again. It is normal there that when a new president comes, they sweep away the coach he did not bring, so in case of possible success of the national team, this does not happen that the president cannot be credited.

So, Taj was already the president of the federation in the time of Queiroz?

It is interesting that this is the same president who resigned before my arrival, and who, among other things, was under great pressure from public opinion for signing a multi-million dollar contract with the Belgian Mark Wilmots. During his reign, the national team was almost eliminated from the first round of World Cup qualification. We returned Iran to where it realistically belongs, and Taj was returned and rewarded by going to the World Cup, he could even add that he came back as a hero. Who can understand that logic.

Do you resent Taj for firing you?

Professionally, I can’t blame him for anything, because he used his powers. He didn’t promise me anything, but if I were in his place, I would have kept the coach who saved me from the stigma of elimination already at the first step of qualifying for the World Cup.

Carlos Quieiroz?

In our life or our profession, almost every day we meet people who have achieved impressive careers in their field of activity. When we talk about coaches, they coached the biggest clubs or led national teams at the World Cup. But among them we can single out only a few to which we can add the prefix ‘big’. Those who are ‘big’ do not reach their goal by any possible means. They do not negotiate with a team that has a coach or advertise in the media by posting messages to players coached by another colleague.

Did you already notice that something like this was coming your way, or was the shift a surprise to you too?

I was surprised, considering the results we have achieved, everything went against common sense. But, during my entire mandate, I was replaced on many occasions by various interest groups without any reason, so I was ready for anything. At first, they ignored me, because everyone thought we would be eliminated in the first qualifiers, which were played in Bahrain. We had no right to drop a point there, we were written off by everyone. We won 4 in a row, reversed the dynamics, and continued in the same style in the next qualifiers. We were undefeated, and they started criticizing me, which I understood as personal progress, after the ignoring phase, criticizing is something like reaching the next level. After we qualified, I literally started getting in the way, the attacks came from all sides, they finally realized that I’m good and that I can’t be led.

What is actually behind your shift, after you secured placement at the World Cup as a selector?

Behind my dismissal is the newly elected president, some players inclined towards him, who supported him during the election out of their own interest, and the coach who succeeded me on the bench, who was in communication with those same players and people from the association for a long time.

Does that mean that certain players were involved in your shift?

The passive reactions of the decision-makers towards the players allowed them to enter into something that is not their competence. Consulting the alliance with the players on decisions irrelevant to their work, gave them more and more importance and encouraged them to interfere more and more. It was completely disappointing to learn that eventually the players began to overlap the alliance and meet with high-ranking politicians, especially the minister of sports, who was in contact with Quiroz through one of the previous people in the administration.

What were the reactions of the Iranian national team members after your dismissal, did any of them contact you?

A few of them gave me public support, most of them were afraid of compromising their trip to the World Cup, so they sent messages in a personal way. These few who had their favorite as a coach and who judged me based on their preferences and interests, they did not declare themselves publicly, they said that they were soldiers of the national team and that they did not want to interfere, and they were indeed involved.

This is the first time you are talking about this topic to the media, why didn’t you come forward immediately?

For the last month, Iran has been in a situation that has deeply worried and saddened me, as someone who has spent a long time in that country. I did not announce my departure in the media out of respect for all my friends and all those who were going through uncertain and difficult days at that time.

Are you disappointed that you will not be at the World Cup as a coach?

For all of us in football, the World Cup is the pinnacle of our career, including me. I gave my all, in these almost three years and it is normal that I am disappointed. However, there are human values ​​for me that are much more important than World Cup. The concept of success has a somewhat deeper meaning for me. I am proud of the way I went through the qualifications. From the first day to the last, I faced many obstacles and difficulties, and I managed to keep myself, I kept my integrity and dignity until the very end. I knew how to handle the pressure around me. I was immune to a considerable number of fabricated stories and petty hoaxes by pseudo-football experts and analysts from the media and from social networks. In addition, we brought a sum of money, which we could use to cover expensive mistakes from the past and use them for the development of football in the country in the future.

Do you think about returning to Iran one day?

Of course, the fact that I had a negative experience with certain people does not mean that all Iranians are bad. I have always tried to dispel prejudices and myths about Iran as a negative country, as suggestively offered by the Western media, placating the world to Iranians. Politics aside, it is not part of my focus here, wonderful people live in Iran.

What can Iran do at the World Cup?

Iran have the quality to get through the group, provided they don’t accept a reactive role again at the big competition, which doesn’t benefit them in terms of attacking potential. Anything but passing the group should be considered a failure, since they are first ranking representative of Asia.

Who do you see as the favorite for the world title?

Brazil, Holland, Belgium, France. And personally, I will support Croatia and Spain to win the title, their football has always been the closest to me.

Croatia defends runner-up from Russia. What prospects do you give the team and how do you think our national team looks at the moment?

I believe that we can go far, it is important that everyone is healthy when it is most needed. I like the young players who are coming, they bring new energy. Positive experience from Russia is also important, it brings with it a certain mentality, which can be decisive for this great competition. Going to the Final Four of the League of Nations is also a confirmation that we can, and that we are on the right track.

How much do you follow the domestic league, how do you comment on the current season?

I follow the league as much as I can. An absurd paradox is happening in our domestic football: We sell good players in order to buy bad ones. It is difficult to maintain the quality of the league that way. Dinamo’s standard quality level is higher than the others. Hajduk can hardly match them in this championship. Osijek is in good dynamics. Varaždin and Slaven Belupo positively surprised me. The biggest disappointment is certainly my Rijeka, which this year failed in its intention to revalue the players it brought in, and it succeeded in previous seasons, and Gorica, which compared to last season is in an obvious decline.

You have accumulated rich coaching experience in the Middle East, would you return there again or maybe it is time for a European destination?

Somehow, it is most logical for me to continue my career in Asia, I have been in that market there for years. The European destination is my constant target. I already had some offers, but I didn’t want to rush. I need some rest and certainly patience to find a team with which I can repeat the success.