January 29, 2019

Thanking Team Melli’s Carlos Queiroz

“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 the Iranian people deserve,” Carlos Queiroz, the outgoing coach of Iran’s Team Melli, told GQ last year.

Queiroz announced his departure in an emotional Instagram post on Monday, after spending nearly eight years as Team Melli’s longest-tenured coach and taking Iran to two World Cups.

“There are no words to express my gratitude to these players, for everything they have done all over these years, for their effort, support and commitment,” he stated, “This was one of the best football families of my career.”

For Queiroz and Iranian soccer fans, the love and admiration has long been mutual. When Queiroz took over the reins of Team Melli in 2011, he faced an almost impossible challenge in resuscitating a soccer team long battered by political problems and sanctions. The latter left him facing a constant lack of resources, as Team Melli struggled to travel, arrange friendly matches, or even buy basic equipment under overly broad U.S. sanctions.

However, Queiroz took the challenges in stride, declaring in 2018: “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.”

Queiroz tapped into his international network of contacts to work wonders for Team Melli and went above and beyond in standing up for his players on and off the pitch. He didn’t lose a single one of Iran’s ten qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup, making Iran the first team to qualify for the tournament. Under his watch, Team Melli went on to play valiantly in their group — beating Morocco, stymying Cristiano Ronaldo to draw with Portugal, and losing to Spain by the narrowest of margins.

The 2018 World Cup also brought with it many frustrations, particularly with Nike’s refusal to supply Team Melli with soccer cleats in an abhorrent case of overcompliance with U.S. sanctions. Since the tournament, Iran has also been barred from receiving the $8 million in World Cup appearance money that it is owed because, as Queiroz has explained, the money is “stuck in FIFA and stuck in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation).”

Queiroz has long denounced the “cruel sanctions” that he says have “victimized” Iranian soccer players. He eloquently stated in 2018: “My message for international football is very simple: let us play. Our players deserve that opportunity. Don’t let sanctions create this stigma. Don’t let this go against the spirit of the game. We have football players who love the game.”

Carlos Queiroz leaves Iran with the gratitude of millions of Iranians both in- and outside Iran.  Throughout these years of intense hardship for the Iranian people, Queiroz stood out as a figure that empathized with them and voiced their struggles to the world. His legacy at Team Melli will not be forgotten, nor will his commitment to his players. As he said in 2018: “I’ve never, in all my career, seen players deliver so much after receiving so little as I have with these Iran boys.”

This post originally appeared on Medium.

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