Portuguese Carlos Queiroz is one of the most recognisable faces in world football thanks to his spells in charge of some of the most prestigious sides on the planet. Much praised for his work as right-hand man to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, he went on to coach Real Madrid and Portugal after leaving Old Trafford, and he is now focusing his talents on leading Iran to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
FIFA.com met up with the respected tactician to discuss his brilliant career, which got off to a magnificent start when he led Portugal to consecutive triumphs at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1989 and 1991.
FIFA.com: Let's start by discussing your role as Iran coach. How do you rate your side's chances of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup?
Carlos Queiroz: The signs are promising, but I'm well placed to know that it'll be very difficult to qualify directly. For me, the top two spots will be contested between Iran, South Korea, Uzbekistan and Qatar. I have a lot of respect for Lebanon, who have what it takes to spring a few upsets and have a chance of finishing third.
What strategy have you adopted for the qualifying campaign? What will you ask of your players?
We know the qualifiers are difficult and that each match requires the best possible preparation. Since arriving in Iran, I've endeavoured to change the mentality of the players. I want them to understand that every game is important. All the teams are competitive and whoever you're playing against, there are always three points at stake. They need to fight to win those three points, both at home and away. Beyond that, there's always luck and other factors you can't control. I would also point out that our schedule is tough. It's a veritable obstacle course getting from one end of Asia to the other, and not every team has a private jet. I hope that changes because it's a real hindrance for us.
Turning back to your campaign with Portugal at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, how do you explain your side's loss in the last 16?
Before that disappointment, we'd played a lot of games – a total of 21 in 2009 and 2010. We only lost the very last one, against Spain, who knocked us out of the competition before becoming world champions. Still, I'd also like to point out that we weren't at our best. After a long season, we had to prepare in a hurry. Because of that, we lost players due to injury, such as Nani, on the eve of the competition. Others were just coming back and the rest of the team wasn't at its highest level technically or physically. You only have to look at the performances of Cristiano Ronaldo, who usually shines at big events. That said, overall I'm satisfied with our campaign.
Portugal are always one of the favourites in major competitions but they have yet to win a world or European title. Why is that?
That's the way football is. I think the major reasons have to do with resistance to change and a certain stagnation. We have a small country and our choices are limited. We need to strengthen our squad to find more solutions on the pitch. The final of EURO 2004, which we lost and will unfortunately never forget, was without doubt the high-water mark of a generation. Football is sometimes ungrateful towards the big teams. The Netherlands know all about that too as they've never won the World Cup.
What can you tell us about your experience at Real Madrid?
I disagreed with the policy of the President at that time. But I'm delighted with the policy of the President now, who listens to the coach and heeds advice. As a result, the club have won two important titles in the last two years.
What are your thoughts on the intense rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona and their stranglehold on Spanish football in the last few years?
They're two radically different entities. Barcelona have great players like [Lionel] Messi, Xavi [Hernandez] and [Andres] Iniesta, who've allowed them to collect a lot of titles in the last few years – and in style too. Once Real rediscovered their identity, though, they were able to dominate Barcelona, thanks also to excellent players. I think they're the best two teams around at the moment. Messi and Ronaldo are the kings of football. They're exact opposites, but our sport needs them both. As a coach, you don't want to come up against them, but that doesn't stop you feeling treated every time you see them.
You served as assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson, who recently oversaw his 1,000th match for Manchester United in just over a quarter of a century. Do you have a message for him to mark that occasion?
It's difficult to talk about him. I'd say that whereas the rest of us each make up a small part of football, he embodies football because of his exceptional personality. He's made from the same stuff as Pele, [Diego] Maradona, [Alfredo] Di Stefano and [Ferenc] Puskas. In football, there are men who inspire respect. When they walk into a stadium, you can't help but applaud them – and Ferguson is one of them.
Lastly, you have coached at club and international level. Which do you prefer?
They're two different jobs. I love the role of national coach at the start of a preparation phase or the start of a match, but I miss being a club coach during the long periods without any competitive activity. I love the day-to-day work, going to the stadium and leading training sessions. My favourite moments are on the pitch, with the players. It's different with national teams as that requires another type of commitment. You're working for the supporters of all the clubs, which is very difficult. You can go from heaven to hell in the space of one match. When you lose, you're as low as it gets because the whole country holds it against you. That said, I don't know why but I love this job.