SEOUL, Korea, Republic of, Jun 22 – Carlos Queiroz was once Alex Ferguson’s formidable number two at Manchester United, but he has now carved out a new reputation: the man who can take your team to the World Cup.
After Queiroz’s Iran became only the second team to qualify for Russia 2018, he is savouring the unique feat of reaching four World Cups with three different teams.
It’s a record that hasn’t gone unnoticed, with Asian champions Australia reportedly interested in Queiroz’s services once Ange Postecoglou departs next year.
“I feel very proud and honoured with that (World Cup) achievement,” the grizzled Portuguese told AFP by telephone. “Other coaches have qualified four times but not with different teams.”
The former Real Madrid boss has now qualified with South Africa in 2002, Portugal in 2010 — leading them to the last 16 — and now twice with Iran, after he also took them to Brazil 2014.
This month’s 2-0 win over Uzbekistan made Iran the first Asian team to qualify for Russia, clinching top spot in Group A with two games to spare — and without a single goal conceded in 720 minutes of football.
On top of that, Iran, who will now contest back-to-back World Cups for the first time, have been Asia’s number one team in the FIFA rankings for four years, helped by a growing number of players succeeding in Europe.
Walter Winterbottom took England to four successive World Cups starting from 1950, a record that was equalled by West Germany’s Helmut Schon from 1966 to 1978. Oscar Tabarez could also make it four with Uruguay if the South Americans reach Russia.
But nobody has done it with three different countries, apart from Mozambique-born Queiroz.
“To do it with these different countries, cultures and mentalities is at least, unique,” Queiroz said. “Each country has its own challenges, its own strengths and weaknesses.”
– ‘Football animal’ –
The 64-year-old became Iran coach in 2011 and has weathered cultural and logistical difficulties to find success with Team Melli, helped by the talent the country produces and the passion of the fans.
“The fans love the team and the excitement they provide is special,” said Queiroz. “When we play at home the atmosphere is great and there can be 100,000 fans. When we qualified, there were celebrations in Tehran all night.”
Among Queiroz’s players is Reza Ghoochannejhad, who was the second highest goalscorer in the Dutch league in the 2016-2017 season with 20 goals for Heerenveen.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh has also impressed in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, and Karim Ansarifard is with Greek giant Olympiakos.
Then there are two highly-rated young stars in Russia: striker Sardar Azmoun and midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi, with both expected to head to one of the bigger European leagues this summer.
It all adds up to a formidable squad and coaching staff.
“Carlos Queiroz and his colleagues have done so much for Team Melli,” Ali Daei, a legend of Iranian football and former national team coach, told FIFA’s official homepage.
“One of the most important things he’s done is bringing in so many young players and changed the major players of the team.”
Although Queiroz is attracting interest from other federations, he says he hasn’t yet decided whether he will go for a fifth World Cup with a fourth national team.
“I have been coaching for a long time,” said Queiroz, who led Portugal’s U20 team to successive World Cup titles in 1989 and 1991. “I don’t really want to think what happens after the next World Cup.
“If this football animal is still biting me in the stomach then I can continue. I want to feel happy. If I can still make a contribution then maybe.”
First comes the challenge of taking Iran to Russia, and improving on their winless showing in Brazil.
“That is the ambition and starting from now, that is the objective we are working towards,” he said. “With the right preparation then we have the talent to make an impact.”