Opinion: Why are foreign coaches leaving Iran in masses?

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womenforfootball.com-  Sacked. Payment not made. Contractual violations. Foreign coaches leaving Iran in masses. All these, sum up the last Quarter of 2019 for Iranian football fans.

The top-ranking team in Asia, used to have a top Portuguese manager leading its National team. At League level too, boasted by 5 European coaches. But Iranian football is now on the verge of, to put it bluntly, xenophobia at domestic club level. There have been 4 foreign coach dismissal within the last three months of 2019 alone, with a strong preference for Iranian coaching appointment at all levels of football, in particular league level. What has changed? What led to all these foreign coaches leaving Iran in such a short period of time?

In this article, we will look at Timeline of each of these foreign coaches, and analyze the common reason foreign coaches in Iran are leaving, and what that means for future of Iranian football.

Marc Wilmots

Marc Wilmots, the 50-year old Belgian manager, who was succeeding the popular Carlos Queiroz at the helm of Iran National team, lasted in Iran for only 6 months, including 4 competitive games. However, losing two crucial World Cup qualifier games against Bahrain and Iraq, made the qualification to next round of World Cup qualifiers, ever more far-fetched.

With 50% winning ratio at Iran National team, it was first reported by Iran state media that “Wilmots was dismissed by Iran Football Federation.” However, as he later indicated to European media outlets, he had quit the job before Iraq match, after his $3M salary was not transferred in time by IFF.

Following Wilmots’ departure, Iran Football Federaton claimed “His money is ready but they cannot transfer, due to U.S sanctions.” Once Wilmots arrived in his hometown, through his social media platform, he announced “He and his staff were in an “intolerable situation” due to serious contractual violations by the Iranian Football Federation.  “ Wilmots is currently filing for $6M case against Iran Football Federation.


Fast forward to a month later, and a bombshell hit Iran league games. Italian coach of Esteghlal, who was the fan-favourite for leading the mismanaged team to top of the league, left the Blues for Italy in a shock announcement. Andrea Stramaccioni, former Inter and Udinese manager, was very popular for taking the best out of the team and fighting for the fans despite State-funded club management issues. Stramaccioni too left Iran only after 5 months in the job, on December, 2019.

However, he fought for Esteghlal fans to tell them the truth via his Instagram account, uploading his live videos and instagram posts for fans about the reason he left Iran. At first, Esteghlal officials claimed “Stramaccioni wanted to reduce his contract duration to 1 year instead of 2 year.” A fact that Stramaccioni flatly denied. The Italian manager through his Instagram feed, shared with his fans that “He hasn’t been paid for 3 months. And each time, Esteghlal officials promised to pay him but they did not.” In face of the truth, Esteghlal officials scrambled to explain reasons and they mentioned “Due to U.S sanctions, they cannot transfer money legitimately. They have to do it to personal account and it will be flagged by European banks as Money laundering.” After weeks of empty promises by Esteghlal officials that they are trying to bring back the Italian manager, finally on Jan 2nd, club officials confirmed Stramaccioni’s departure and that negotiations have been unsuccessful.

However, Stramaccioni left with him the record of 60% winning ratio at Esteghlal, through 15 games; 9 victories, 4 draw and 2 losses.

Since his departure on Dec 8th: Esteghlal has earned 4 points only through three games; 1 loss, 1 tie and 1 win. Whereas in Stramaccioni’s last three games, he had earned 7 points through 2 wins and 1 tie for Esteghlal.

The trend line shows the peak of Esteghlal on Week 13 and 14, when Stramaccioni was leading the team, and the immediate dip in form as soon as he left the team.

Stramaccioni’s record at Esteghlal

Gabriel Calderon

The next foreign coach who departed was Perspolis’ Gabriel Calderon. Watching Stramaccioni’s rebellious departure, Argentinian manager too did not tolerate financial problems any longer. He was also appointed only in July 2019, and left Iran on Jan 12th,  2020 due to Financial problems. In his interview, he mentioned he had not been paid for 6 months. “I’m not a fool”, he barked.

Gabriel Calderon, in 19 games had winning ratio of 73%. An Iranian coach was appointment soon after, and he has recorded 1 victory so far.

Calderon’s record at Perspolis


Another victim was Turkish manager, Mustafa Denizli who was appointed at Teraktursazi on June 2019. He too only lasted 6 months in Iran and was dismissed on Dec 7th, after having only three losses in the season. Denizli’s Teraktursazi, defeated stronghold Perspolis after 5 years.  With 46% win ratio in 13 games, under his reign, Teraktur earned 17 points and was among contenders of the league. Soon after his departure, an Iranian coach was appointed, and so far only 7 points have been gained in 7 games, including a loss to Perspolis. The trendline below shows Teraktursazi’s form under Denizli until Week 11, and immediate dip in form after his departure.

Denizli’s record at Teraktur

The numbers are mind-blowing that despite their successful track record at club level, Stramaccioni, Calderon and Denizli all left in the span of 6 months of appointment, and due to contractual violations by club officials. Iran National team manager too, left within 6 months, again for the same reason.

Dragan Skočić

Sanat Naft Abadan’s Croatian coach was among the only two remaining European(or rather non-Iranian) team managers in Persian Gulf League. In an announcement on Feb 3rd, club officials announced that “Skočić wanted to leave for personal reasons for awhile.” Therefore, on mutual agreement, he left the team. Shortly, after this announcement, Iran Football Federation revealed Skocic as the new Iran National team Manager, after failing to reach agreement with their first-choice Iranian options.

Skočić had been appointed as Sanat Naft manager on July 2019,and he had a winning ratio of 50%. Sanat Naft, with him in charge stood at 6th in the league standing.

Sanat Naft
Skocic’s record at Sanat Naft

Gianni De Biasi

Among shortlist of candidates to replace Wilmot, there was another foreign coach.  Gianni De Biasi was deterred by deceptive claims against him on State TV before he even accepts the offer. In an interview with Khabaronline, Gianni De Biasi mentioned that he viewed IRIB TV program that made accusations against him. He pointed to the false claims that “”I was fired from Albania National team.” My resignation letter after 5 years still exists and is searchable on internet. Another lie was that Albania’s ranking with me dipped to 34. But in fact, it reached to 22 which was a record high in Albania’s history. “

Apart from State TV making false claims against the foreign coach, Shakoori, Iran Football Federation Deputy made an announcement this week that “Preference is given to an Iranian coach.“ Putting an end to Gianni De Biasi’s appointment in Iran, before it even began.

Intentional or unintentional, IFF’s actions and committing contractual violations with foreign coaches, along with a targeted attack campaign against a foreign coach candidate, all led to departure of 5 foreign coaches in span of 6 months, . These all seem to be linked to a strategy to appoint Iranian coaches at the helm of football teams at all cost. To know who has strategized for that, it cannot be ignored that in August 2019, Iran Supreme leader in his speech mentioned: “I really believe it would be great in sport, to have Iranian coaches.”

So how would this new strategic Iranian-only appointment affect Iranian football?

As compared and showcased in all three club teams above, two out of three teams have dipped in form significantly since their foreign coach departure and Iranian coach appointment. It is also evident in the number of points lost and gained. As proven in club teams’ forms, with local coaches’ lack of modern football knowledge, appointing Iranian coaches only, would significantly demote Iranian league teams and their competitiveness.

At a higher level and at National team level, Iran Football Federation failed to reach agreement with Iranian coaching candidates close to the establishment, after club directors refused to let go of their coach. Meanwhile, IFF did not consider elite Iranian coaching candidates such as Vahid Hashemian, Yahya Golmohamadi, or Ali Daei. With only four critical World Cup qualifier games remaining, the surprising appointment of Skocic ,for the sake of cost-efficiency, with no previous National team coaching experience, will likely result in early Elimination of Iranian team from World Cup qualifiers and shattered dreams of World Cup 2022 appearance.

Iranian football is sure heading for the rock bottom in 2020.

*chart sources: varzesh3

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