When Carlos Queiroz was unveiled as the new manager of the Colombian national team, he made his plans for the future clear. Speaking in a positive, appreciative tone, he was adamant that he wanted success with one of South America’s most vibrant outfits. It’s clear that there is talent in the team, and perhaps Queiroz, with his wealth of experience, could be the man to make the best out of it.
It would be fair to say that Colombia have struggled on the international scene since their heroics at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. At the 2015 Copa América, they stumbled to the second round before losing to Argentina in a penalty shoot-out. A year later at the Copa América Centenario, they made it to the semi-finals before falling short against defending champions and eventual winners Chile. The World Cup in Russia didn’t get much better. They failed to replicate their form from four years prior and were knocked out on penalties by England.
Both Colombia and Queiroz have had similar tales over the last decade or so. They’ve both risen from the depths and made their mark in one way or another. Colombia, with star names such as Radamel Falcao and James Rodríguez, always seem to impress but can’t get the job done when it matters most. The same could be said about Queiroz, who, despite making Iran one of the most enjoyable teams in Asian football, has been a bit of an under-achiever for never winning a trophy – the most topical example being the recently-concluded Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, where they were two wins away from glory.
With the desire coming from a group of players who want to replicate and better their showings from Brazil coming to work under a manager who wants to get rid of the tag of an “under-achiever”, this could be a perfect match. They’ve both got the talent, the aptitude and the skill necessary to reach the higher echelons, and with that being said, Queiroz’s history with success and the graft required to get to this point should not be forgotten.
Born in Mozambique, like many Portuguese football figures, Queiroz is a well-travelled coach with his early career spanning across four continents before settling with European clubs. He started with his country’s U20 side, proving to be successful as a golden generation of players consisting of the likes of João Pinto, Luís Figo and Rui Costa amongst others won two consecutive U20 World Cups in 1989 and 1991. Those triumphs granted him the opportunity to take charge of the senior team, although that was hardly as fruitful as his previous role. Following that, he would go on to enjoy a journeyman spell, starting at home.
He was in charge of the Sporting CP side that won the Taça de Portugal in 1995, beating Marítimo in the final before going on to manage the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in the United States of America, Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan as well as the United Arab Emirates and South African national teams. These tenures were short-lived, but his meticulousness and attention to detail was impressive. Whilst working in the States, he co-authored Project 2010, highlighting strategies that the United States Soccer Federation needed to put into place to win the World Cup by 2010 – which was 12 years away from the time of publication.
The 114-page dossier, although somewhat unreasonable at some points, was incredibly detailed. It emphasized on the changes the USSF needed to make in order to bring success in the future, going from fluctuations right from the U12 level whilst also mentioning the fundamentals required at college, state and national level, amongst others. Rather hysterically, though, the whole process was compared to the United States’ success with their Apollo XI mission. Nevertheless, the plans and overall document were incredible and insightful, giving the world an idea that Queiroz would not let up when working on a project.
That, along with other decent work, prompted Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson to bring the Portuguese to Old Trafford, where he would work as an assistant to the legendary Scotsman. This was in 2002, a year that was fairly eventful for Queiroz. A couple of months prior, he had helped South Africa qualify for the World Cup finals but quit his role just before the tournament began following disagreements with the team’s technical director Jomo Sono over the nation’s poor showing at the African Cup of Nations that year. South Africa’s loss was Manchester United’s gain, as Sir Alex Ferguson would later find out.
In the 2002-03 season, Queiroz and Manchester United won the Premier League after a disappointing finish in the previous season. The assistant’s influence was greatly praised and was fundamental to the team’s success. It was revealed that he was in charge of several of the team’s training sessions and drills while his incredible planning and tactical nous was crucial in preparation for the Red Devils’ upcoming matches. He was also important in United’s signing of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, who he recommended to Sir Alex Ferguson midway through the 2002-03 campaign, thus laying the foundations for another incredible talent to light up the hallowed Old Trafford turf.
All of this caught the eye of Real Madrid, who appointed him to replace the outgoing Vicente del Bosque and gave him the opportunity to reunite with the likes of Figo and David Beckham and work with other superstars like Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo. His departure was shocking considering that he had just worked at the top level of European football for a year, but there was no doubt that there was a good manager in him. However, he was still a diamond in the rough. His time in the Spanish capital started brightly, winning the Supercopa de España, but he was gone 10 months later, failing to do anything noteworthy in the league and Champions League.
His availability proved to be an interesting prospect for Sir Alex Ferguson, who brought him back to his coaching staff, and it was here that Queiroz established himself amongst the elite. In the one season that he was gone, United struggled in the league, finishing 15 points behind champions Arsenal in third. His second spell at Old Trafford was sweet and sour, especially in the case of two players that were crucial to United on-pitch dominance in two different eras.
The first was Roy Keane, who many believe left the club in 2005 due to Queiroz’s growing influence in the squad. It is believed that Keane’s acrimonious departure was fueled by Queiroz’s hostility towards him and he wasn’t impressed by his defensive nature. The Irish midfielder claimed that the assistant questioned his commitment to the club, before speaking on punditry duty in 2018 that he regrets not “ripping his head off”, when the feud between the two was at its highest point. But while that relationship was strained, Sir Alex Ferguson believes Queiroz played a huge hand in settling one of the club’s up-and-coming stars, Cristiano Ronaldo.
With both coming from Portugal, it’s unsurprising that the two built a solid rapport. But given the player’s youth and fiery attitude in his early years, it is worth noting that molding Ronaldo into the player he became at Manchester United is a commendable effort. The winger had also lost his father at the time and his frequent feuds with Ruud van Nistelrooy weren’t doing him any good, but Ferguson believes Queiroz’s one-on-one talks helped build Ronaldo’s confidence and bring out the best in the player.
“CARLOS WOULD SAY TO CRISTIANO ALL THE TIME: ‘YOU’RE ONLY A GREAT PLAYER WHEN PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE CLUB START RECOGNISING YOU AS SUCH'” – SIR ALEX FERGUSON
Queiroz’s good man-management abilities can’t overstate his fine work on the pitch. Coming in at a time where Arsenal had just won the league having gone the whole season unbeaten and José Mourinho was running riot with Chelsea, Queiroz helped Ferguson with a budding team and made them one of English football’s finest. The league title wins in 2007 and 2008 were impressive, given that it involved one of the most formidable attacking forces in Europe, led by Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, but it is their Champions League success that was the pinnacle for the players and coaching staff.
Ferguson emphasized upon Queiroz’s thoroughness in the preparation for their semi-final clash against Barcelona in 2008. His defensive stability was highlighted by the fact that he set out Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick to bring some more solidity and astuteness against the mercurial Barcelona attacking line. The strategy and planning worked as the Catalan club failed to score across both legs before United went on to beat Chelsea on penalties in Moscow. That would prove to be Queiroz’s last match with Manchester United, as the vacancy opened up for the Portuguese national team role, and after years of speculation, he finally left Old Trafford for the second time.
Just like his first spell in charge of his national team, this one wasn’t as joyous or prominent as his previous job. Over a two-year period, they struggled to make it to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, being forced to go through the play-off route following a sluggish qualifying campaign. And when they did get to the finals, they hardly impressed, as they were knocked out by eventual winners Spain in the second round. Once again, his conservative tactics came under scrutiny, especially by his captain and former protégé Cristiano Ronaldo, and soon after the tournament ended, he was gone, although this came with a little controversy.
Queiroz was given a six-month suspension by the Portuguese Anti-Doping Authority on his way out for disrupting a mandatory doping test with his aggressive behaviour prior to the World Cup. The situation soured relations between federation and manager, and it raised a huge question mark on Queiroz career. Here was a man that was highly touted by one of the game’s greatest but was unable to excel when given the reins on his own. So, when his next challenge turned up, he knew he had his reputation on the line and the challenge itself came out of left-field.
The Portuguese coach would go back to the Middle East and take charge of the Iranian national team, and this role was accepted with the power of supportive dialogue. At the time in 2011, Iran’s rough political situation meant that there weren’t too many that were keen on taking charge of its national team, so when the chance fell to Queiroz, he was convinced by the FA’s positive and affirming tone and that convinced him to take the job. From that point onwards, Queiroz has faced several stern challenges and has overcome them all with composure.
The major challenge was the low level of quality in Iran. Facing international sanctions for over two decades when he took over, the infrastructure wasn’t up to scratch for Queiroz’s methods and the poor national league didn’t do him any favours. One of the main struggles, when it came to infrastructure, was the fact that he has had to make do with training on a 60-metre long pitch, which is hardly ideal at top-level football. Yet, with problems like that combined with social issues in the country, it is a testament to Queiroz’s quality that he has achieved so much with so little support from external factors.
Since taking the job in 2011, Iran have qualified for the two World Cups since and have done so comprehensively. When he took over, Team Melli were in disarray, having the players to succeed, but lacking the right man to lead them. Queiroz changed that. In his first World Cup qualifying campaign, they were ranked below the likes of North Korea, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia prior to the start of the road to the finals. By the end, they were one of the first in Asia to qualify and did so using all of the few resources available to them.
One of the main changes Queiroz brought to the national team is the integration of players from the Iranian diaspora into the national squad. This includes using the likes of German-Iranians like Ashkan Dejagah, Dutch-Iranians like Reza Ghoochanejhad and Swedish-Iranians like Saman Ghoddos. In addition to that, the tactical nous which he received plaudits for over the course of his career was well on display. His defensive approach was well-received and deployed by the Iranians, as Queiroz’s primarily played a 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-1-1 formation, making the best of the players available to him.
Controversy isn’t too far away from Queiroz and it wasn’t in his first World Cup qualifying campaign as well. In the final round before the finals, Iran were paired in the same group as South Korea and the Portuguese and his South Korean counterpart, Choi Kang-hee got a bit heated prior to the clash in the Far East. The Koreans complained that the conditions for their away game in Tehran eight months prior weren’t ideal, and tempers flared when coach Kang-hee said in a press conference that his team would “defeat Iran no matter what” and that “coach Queiroz would be watching the Brazil World Cup on TV.”
In response, Queiroz posed with a shirt that had a picture of a tearful Choi Kang-hee on it that only made the clash spicier and when Iran finally beat the South Koreans to qualify for the finals, Queiroz didn’t hold back and celebrated wildly at the final whistle. The Portuguese has always had a fiery nature, and this was a clear example of it. At the finals itself, Iran were perhaps lacking a little edge to make it to the second round. Paired in a group with Argentina, Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina, they opened with a goalless draw with the Africans, lost to piece of magic by Lionel Messi in the second game and then they were dominated by a formidable Bosnia side.
“MY DUTY IS TO CREATE HAPPINESS, FUN AND ENTERTAINMENT FOR THE PEOPLE. IRAN IS A COUNTRY RICH IN TRADITION AND THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF HISTORY. IT’S JUST A PITY THAT THE PERCEPTION OF IRAN AROUND THE WORLD IS NOT THE RIGHT OR REAL ONE, NOR THE ONE THAT THE IRANIAN PEOPLE DESERVE” – CARLOS QUEIROZ TO GQ
Given the circumstances, it could be said that there wasn’t much expected of Iran. Although he was doing a decent job, he often failed to get the support from the higher powers in the country. Many were critical that he spent much of his time outside Iran, while some domestic clubs released players very late prior to international duty. A key example of this came before the World Cup, where in addition to the lack of funds, they had to cancel key preparations in a training camp in South Africa as well as a friendly against Mozambique because they only had 11 players – neither of whom were goalkeepers.
Another important personal victory for Queiroz was the locals’ support of the players from the diaspora. Prior to his arrival, only players who were born in the country were allowed to represent the national team, but that was altered following Queiroz’s entry. The selection process was complex, as they had to search greatly for players that could be allowed to don the Iranian white without breaking any regulations, but it worked a treat. The likes of Dejagah and Ghoochannejhad were revered by their fans and overcame several issues – including a language barrier – to do well in national colours.
In just three years, Queiroz had done well enough to make Team Melli Asia’s best, and despite rumours that he would depart following the summer in Brazil, he chose to stay on and pursue his adventure. A couple of months after the summer in Brazil came the Asian Cup in Australia, a tournament which they entered as Asia’s highest rank team. There, they were valiant again, going up until the quarter-finals, but lost on penalties in a thrilling match against perennial rivals Iraq.
Over time, there have been several instances where a lack of support combined with disagreements with the FA have led to situations where Queiroz threatened to leave, but he’s continued strongly. Following the Asian Cup in 2015, Queiroz led Iran through qualifying for the 2018 World Cup where they were impressive. In a lengthy qualifying procedure, Iran were undefeated across 18 matches (eight matches in the first round; ten in the second) and were the third team in the world after hosts Russia and record-winners Brazil to qualify for the 2018 showpiece.
Going into the World Cup, they were undoubtedly Asia’s best hope, but once again, politics and sanctions would attempt to hinder their run. One of the major issues facing Queiroz was the selection of Masoud Shojaei. A respected figure in Iranian football and very often the captain of the national team, Shojaei’s international career was put at risk following his decision to play for Greek club Panionios against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given the political and religious disputes between Iran and Israel, this led to calls from major local personalities to permanently ban the player and Ehsan Hajsafi, who was also in the same situation.
After months of being away from the national team, Queiroz made the difficult decision of picking the player and giving him the armband for the World Cup. This was a huge decision, and the captain was in praise of his manager for helping him get through this testing period. Even greater was the decision to make him captain, which was important to note because it is rare to see the leader of the players not playing for one of Iran’s big two – Esteghlal or Persepolis.
Another problem that turned up before the World Cup – and one that has often caused worry for Queiroz overtime – has been the troubles brought to his preparations due to the stark economic sanctions against Iran. Getting equipment has been problematic, while logistics have forced Iran to travel far and wide to conduct training. On the eve of the World Cup in Russia, American sportswear giant Nike announced that they won’t be providing the national team with any equipment. All of this, however, hasn’t dampened Queiroz’s spirit, who continued to do what he loves most – coach football – and do it in a country where he has been at comfort, despite adverse conditions.
“WE STRUGGLE TO TRAVEL, TO HAVE TRAINING CAMPS, TO BRING OPPONENTS, TO BUY EQUIPMENT. EVEN BUYING SHIRTS IS A CHALLENGE, BUT THESE CHALLENGES HAVE HELPED ME FALL IN LOVE WITH IRAN. THESE DIFFICULTIES BECOME A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION TO THE PEOPLE, IT MAKES THEM MORE UNITED, TO FIGHT FOR THEIR COUNTRY. THESE BOYS DESERVE A SMILE FROM THE REST OF THE WORLD” – CARLOS QUEIROZ TO GQ
In Russia, Iran were placed in the toughest of all groups. Two European giants in the form of Spain and Portugal along with Morocco, who were one of Africa’s shining lights would have to square off against Team Melli, and there was little expectation. Queiroz’s team, however, were defiant. They finished third in their group, a point away below the two European powerhouses, and only lost once to Spain. Their displays were admirable and the team were able to take a few good memories back home, ensuring that their future was in good hands.
It says a lot about the respect given to the Portuguese that even with all the circumstances, Queiroz continued to be in charge after the World Cup. The initial plan was that he would leave after the tournament in Brazil, but he stayed on to take the team to Russia, and still wished to carry on. His next challenge would be the Asian Cup, a tournament that they were strong favourites to win, but fell short at the penultimate hurdle. They were dominant until the semi-finals, scoring 12 and conceding none, but it was the Japanese that got the better of them, beating them 3-0 in what would prove to be Queiroz’s final game in charge of the national team.
He made significant progress but ended with nothing to show for it. After leaving his role, he revealed that Iran’s Sports Ministry and the government did nothing to support the national team, saying that their preparations and planning for the 2019 Asian Cup were bankrolled by the Qatari FA. Nevertheless, the Iranian faithful still holds him in high regard, after all, he would become their longest-serving manager in testing times,.
Now, Queiroz heads to South America to take charge of a team with quality and flair. Colombia have stagnated since their World Cup heroics in Brazil, and now they have a manager who is well-capable of bringing the best out of a slaloming group. They head back to Brazil this summer for the Copa América and that would be a good place for the manager to lay down a marker.
Carlos Queiroz hasn’t had the easiest of careers. From travelling around the world early in his early days to finding his feet in Manchester United with a slight pinch from other clubs, all whilst dealing with rumours of a departure for a more esteemed role. He found his place in the unlikeliest of place and did well there amidst frightening political conditions. Despite not having much silverware to his name, he is one of the most revered men in international football, and he now has a chance to enhance his reputation in one of the toughest regions in football.