Carlos Queiroz has magnetism and renown in equal measure, with the Portuguese possessing a coaching CV that details Real Madrid and Portugal as some of his former employers, not to mention lengthy stints as assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. It is thus no surprise his views have been widely sought-after by Asian media since taking charge of Iran in April.
It has long been considered a challenge to coach the national team of the football-mad Islamic republic, where the supporters' passion for the game is rarely matched. Iran, though, are faring smoothly in their campaign to reach the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ having recorded seven points from a possible nine, including hefty wins against Bahrain and Indonesia.
The 58-year-old Queiroz took the time to sit down with FIFA.com to share his experiences with Team Melli, his ambitions for Iran to compete amongst the world’s best at Brazil 2014, Portugal's campaign at South Africa 2010 and the importance of Cristiano Ronaldo.
FIFA.com: How do you think Iran is progressing following your first six months at the helm?
Carlos Queiroz: I think our team have been progressing. We are more organised from a defensive point of view and we are also more consistent and balanced when we move forward. The players have improved a lot in terms of attitude and spirit and we have become stronger as a team. Of course there is always room to improve and that is the motivation for both the team and myself to work hard to develop to a better level.
What goals have you set with Iran?
The main goal above all is to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. So our job is to prepare the team as best as possible and achieve the objective. But the Iranian FA has also asked me to help with the development of the youngsters, especially those who have broken into the national senior team.
With the significant progress made over recent months, do the players believe in themselves more than before?
They have become more familiar and comfortable with our system as well as their roles we expect them to play. There is more consistency in their performance, while both communication and connection amongst them has largely improved. All this enhances their confidence so that they can take risks to move forward and attack.
Captain Javad Nekounam told FIFA.com you have focused a lot on improving the team's offensive mentality, always encouraging the players to press forward...
I believe that the best way to defend is to have the ball and attack in a consistent way. The better you attack the better you are able to control the game. But it is only possible to go forward and attack if you have players ready to sacrifice themselves for each other. Everyone must be clear about his duty. To play attacking football you must always remain aware of defensive balance all over the pitch at all times and not have mental lapses. Because a team won’t succeed with attacking if they are not ready to defend.
One of the notable changes since you took charge is that you have recalled Ali Karimi, who is arguably the most experienced player of the current team. Are you satisfied with his performance so far?
I am very happy with not only him but also Javad Nekounam. Both players have valuable international experience which they are trying to share with the rest of the team. They have been playing key educational roles in the group. Lack of international exposure is one of the major challenges for Team Melli so Ali and Javad are helping teach the young players what to do.
Are you satisfied with the creative job by Andranik Teymourian and Nekounam in your 4-3-3 formation?
I am pleased with the work ethics of both players but some other midfielders like Ghasem Hadadi and Mojtaba Jabbari, to mention a few, have also been contributing in enhancing our creativity.
As a coach renowned for discovering young talent, what are your expectations for Karim Ansarifard, Mohsen Mosalman and Ehsan Hajsafi who are all in their early 20's?
The players you mentioned, along with some others, have graduated from the Olympic and Under 21 sides. We expect them to develop quickly but the only way to make this happen is to provide them with enough chances to play international games to gain experience in a consistent way.
With Iran well-placed to progress to the next stage, how do you rate your chances against Asia's top teams like Japan, Australia and Korea Republic for a qualifying spot at Brazil 2014?
You can’t challenge the best teams in the world if you are not ready to challenge the best teams in Asia. Our goal is to play the best and be among the best. Asia for now is a kingdom of three kings, namely Australia, Japan and Korea Republic. But we must work hard to make them accept Iran as the fourth king and this is our goal for the near future. In the long run, of course, we want to move further to the next level and play against the world’s best.
Your vast Asian experience includes a one-year spell with Nagoya Grampus Eight and two years with United Arab Emirates over a decade ago. How do you see the continent's football development in general?
Generally big progress has been made across the continent but the gaps in class and level among the countries remain huge. I see a couple of countries moving forward quickly and consistently but Asia is lacking in a balance of development as a whole, a fact which causes the continent to suffer still. There may be more teams and competitions over the recent years, but I think Asia is still lacking world-class stars that can compete in the international football arena.
What do you think of Portugal's performance during the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
From my personal perspective, Portugal did very well. We played good and efficient football and you should remember what a tough group we had been given. Three big teams, Brazil, Côte d'Ivoire and Portugal were left battling for the two qualifying spots and we finally made it through alongside Brazil, but at the expense of the Africans - a team who had been strongly-favoured to reach the last eight, or maybe even the last four. Our big win against North Korea was among the tournament’s most exciting matches. Unfortunately we met Spain in the second round, a match which many thought should have been the semi-final or even the final. It was an epic game where we played well. But Spain eventually won and they showed they deserved to win the World Cup.
Finally, how important is Cristiano Ronaldo to Portugal?
If a player reaches the level of Ronaldo or Figo, he is capable of turning the tide of a game. With superb gifts and abilities such as theirs, these players can win a game in a second. They are definitely crucial and important players for national teams. Unfortunately some such players may enter the World Cup not in their top form after playing a hard and long club season, while some others may be injured. This was the case for Ronaldo during the last World Cup, during which he was just able to create the impact to move Portugal to the second round.