Interviews with well-travelled Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz tend to be informative and intriguing. After plying his trade in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, the 59-year-old possesses a remarkable understanding of the beautiful game. Manchester United, Real Madrid and Portugal – the latter at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ – have all reaped the benefits of his footballing acumen.
Now charged with guiding Iran to Brazil 2014 and then to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia, the Iberian tactician took time out of his busy schedule to discuss a wide range of topics with FIFA.com, including the standard of the game in Asia, the Portuguese national team, Spanish football, and Manchester United, a club that still remains close to his heart.
FIFA.com: You’ve been at the helm of the Iranian national side for a year and a half now. How would you evaluate the experience?
Carlos Queiroz: It’s been good. As far as our progress is concerned, we’re been improving steadily up to this point. We’re battling hard for a World Cup slot, and we’re currently in a pretty good position. There are three matches left to play – we’re going to have to hang in there right till the last kick of the ball to book our ticket, because the race is just so tight.
Iran haven’t qualified for the FIFA World Cup since 2006. Does that put extra pressure on your shoulders, given Iranian fans’ passion for football?
Pressure is just part of my life, and part of football. For me, it encourages you to obtain good results. It goes without saying that every Iranian dreams of experiencing the World Cup again. That said, only 32 teams can take part and although some will have had a slice of luck along the way, most will have fought tooth and nail to get there. In order to truly deserve our place in Brazil, we need to prepare as well as we possibly can, pick our best players and stay focused. And that’s what we’re doing.
Do you think that the gap between the elite teams and the others is closing in Asia?
There’s no doubt about it. The Japanese, who have made a considerable effort to develop their football over the last 30 years, are still a cut above everyone else, though. What saddens me is the gap that’s growing between Asia and both Europe and South America. In recent years, Asia has made progress, but the gulf has still increased. There are lot of things that need to be looked at again, such as how competitions are organised and how youth teams are handled, so that the gap can be reduced. We shouldn’t forget that, in parallel with our efforts, Europe and South America have also made progress and have invested enormously. You have to wonder if what we’re doing in Asia is enough. If you ask me, it’s not; far from it.
On the subject of Europe, your homeland Portugal reached the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2012. In your opinion, what do they need to do to move up to the next level?
You have to take into consideration Portugal’s potential, with ten million inhabitants and a little over 130,000 licensed players. We’re in competition with associations with many millions of licensed players like Brazil, Argentina, England, the Netherlands and France. Keeping all that in mind, you realise that Portuguese clubs and the national team actually perform pretty well when compared to Germany, Italy or France. Porto and Benfica are regarded as top European clubs and Portugal regularly qualify for the European Championship. On top of that, our youth teams are of a good standard, and let’s not forget that our players and coaches are very much in demand across the world.
You’re known for unearthing young talents like Luis Figo and Rui Costa, who were both part of Portuguese football’s ‘golden generation’. Do you think that Portugal will soon see another similarly talented group of players emerge?
The potential is definitely there, but the problem is that everyone imagines there’s a magic wand and demands immediate results. I don’t think we’ll see a generation like the one that featured Figo and Costa, because it was the result of six or seven years of preparatory work, between the ages of 13 and 20. It’s not really possible now because you need considerable time to build a team that plays the game the right way.
Luiz Felipe Scolari, who guided Brazil to FIFA World Cup glory in 2002, has been named as the Seleção’s new head coach. Do you believe that he can repeat the feat in 2014?
Scolari is an excellent coach and he is taking over the team at a good time. The tournament is taking place in their country and so they’re rightly favourites. Will they live up to those expectations? The last time they hosted the World Cup, they didn’t shine, but their potential is huge, and you can expect them to give their very best.
What are your thoughts on the development efforts that the Spanish FA has put in, as well as Spain’s performances at continental level, over the last few years?
I’m very familiar with their work; I was at the Portuguese FA when we decided to take similar measures, before Spain did. The work, investments, stadium quality, youth academies, coaches, television broadcasts, advertising and context were all contributing factors to the Spaniards’ success. The 1982 FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games both benefited Spanish football in general. On top of that, Barcelona managed to establish what I call ‘the art of victory’, winning everything while playing beautiful football. When I was at Manchester United, we always tried to win in style because, at the end of the day, fans come to stadiums to be entertained.
Would you agree that it’s a little strange to hear Barcelona being complimented by a former Real Madrid coach?
Let’s be clear. Real Madrid are a great club with fantastic players, but we have to be realistic. When you watch ten, even 50, Barcelona matches, you’re entertained every time. They’re a team that provides pleasure but also manages to win at the same time. I’m not saying that Cristiano Ronaldo or other Real players aren’t impressive to watch, but Barça put on top displays during every single match, in terms of passing, ball possession and finishing. I experienced the same thing in Manchester: we won games by playing an attacking, exciting brand of football that made people happy. That’s the main objective of the sport, after all.
Speaking of Manchester United, were you surprised by Manchester City’s last-gasp Premier League title victory last season?
I still have problems with that shade of blue! (laughs). I like seeing blue skies, but I feel a bit differently about sky blue. When you’ve worked at Manchester United, the club becomes part of you forever. Because of that, I was very disappointed by the loss of the title last season, and I hope that the outcome will be more favourable this year.