This week, the sports periodical Iran Varzeshi (Iran Sport) “announced” that Mehdi Taj, the newly re-elected president of the Iranian Football Federation, and Carlos Queiroz, the former manager of the Iranian national team from 2011 to 2019, reached an agreement on Queiroz’s return to Iran. In a video call, Iran Varzeshi claimed the pair had set a date for Queiroz to return to Team Melli – no later than the end of this week – and agreed on a contract value of 900,000 $ (the conditions were not mentioned).
This dramatic turn of events comes less than 80 days before Iran take part in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. This follows a period of internal Federation chaos and fallout among star players over the future of current coach Dragan Skočić. The latter still seems to be in progress: on several occasions in recent days, the vice-president of the Federation, Mehdi Mohammadnabi, has publicly denied that Skočić is replaced before the tournament. So, who is right ?
Assessing the veracity of Iran Varzeshi’s report
A report of this gravity appearing in Iran Varzeshi is significant because of the publication’s close relationship with Mehdi Taj. He backed him through the final year of his previous term as Football Association boss, when he was accused of fraud, wasting Federation funds and irregular procurement in a series of public blunders.
Ali Javadi, the current editor-in-chief of Iran Varzeshi, is a relative of Ali Larijani, an influential former speaker of the Iranian parliament who was previously the head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Under his leadership, Larijani was appointed to head the sports divisions of several public television stations.
He then became editor of Khabar Varzeshi (Sports News) and the sports page of the major national newspaper Jam-e Jam. As such, he has a long pedigree in regime-aligned sports reporting, but also in sticking the knife in perceived adversaries.
In 2018, in a report published on the front page of Jam-e Jam under his byline, Javadi accused Mehdi Rostampour – a freelance sports journalist living in Europe – of “abducting” Iranian emigrant athletes by choice due to the suffocating politicization Sport. in Iran. Furthermore, he claimed that Rostampour was responsible for luring sports commentator Mazdak Mirzaei away from Iran; Mirzaei had moved to the UK in the summer of 2019 to take up a job with Iran International.
Then, still in 2018, Javadi was appointed director of public relations at the Football Federation, by decision of Mehdi Taj. He was reportedly one of Taj’s closest allies in the Federation and apparently retained an advisory position after Taj’s stormy first term as president ended.
All of this suggests that Iran Varzeshi would be the first to know if there had been a decision made behind closed doors, something Taj is already known to do. On the other hand, the publication may have intentionally jumped the gun in order to pressure Skočić to resign. Regardless, the report was cited by Iranian state media and some international sports news websites, all before an official announcement from the Federation, Team Melli or Queiroz himself. same.
In its Monday report, Iran Varzeshi estimated the value of Carlos Queiroz’s new contract at $900,000. However, the agreed duration was not specified. The Qatar World Cup is scheduled to take place from November 20 to December 18, but one of the other most important competitions for Iran is scheduled six months later: namely the Asian Cup, from June 16 to December 23. July 2023.
Queiroz, a former Manchester United assistant and Real Madrid manager, has previously rejected the idea of being selected for competitions like the Asian Cup. Earlier this year, he rejected an invitation from Iraqi football bosses to take over the management of their team after a World Cup exit, saying: “I prefer not to waste my time on continental competitions.”
Some Iranian media yesterday suggested this meant the $900,000 would only cover the period until the end of the World Cup, meaning its annual value would have amounted to more than $4 million. Iran Varzeshi had claimed that Queiroz was giving Taj, who is used to making disastrous contracts with managers without board approval, a “special discount” for his presence in Iran. Again, Queiroz has yet to say anything publicly about this.
Vice President’s Refusal
Mehdi Taj was re-elected last Tuesday on a single campaign: if he were president again, he promised, he would bring Carlos Queiroz back to Iran. In recent days, however, he declined to comment further on the matter.
Meanwhile, its vice-president Mehdi Mohammadnabi has said the exact opposite, telling Iranian media twice that Dragan Skočić would indeed still be in charge for the World Cup.
The likely reason for the denial is the heavy penalties imposed on an already cash-strapped Federation – its Tehran headquarters was seized last May by the state pension provider over money owed due of the last complicated contract with former head coach Marc Wilmots – is likely to incur if the Croatian coach’s contract is terminated before the hour.
Indeed, according to FIFA rules, federations do not have the right to negotiate with other potential coaches before terminating an ongoing contract. Taj’s intention must be to secretly reach an agreement with Queiroz and then move forward to terminate the contract with Skočić – or else commit a breach on the eve of the World Cup.
On the contrary, Iran Varzeshi’s report will strengthen Dragan Skočić’s hand in the event of a future conflict. In the background, its other likely effect will be to disorient and further divide the players and Skočić himself, after months of turmoil, and ahead of one of the most important tournaments of their entire career to date.