By Hooshyar F. Naraghi
May 15, 1998
A concerned football friend Hossein Tavana from Texas commented in one of the Iranian mailing lists about the status of our national football team at the threshold of World Cup 98. The topic was the Vierra era -- that's Vierra the Brazilian coach who was fired by a self-appointed committee in Iran four months ago. Too old a topic to talk about?
I acknowledge that any "Vierra-crying" is counter-productive at this time. Rajai Khorasani, Iran's representative at the United Nations in the 1980's told ABC's Peter Jennings in Tehran a few years ago, "Let's face it; Khomeini is dead." I too say Vierra is not an issue any more. My fear is that any discussion about Vierra might appear as suggesting there is a Vierra camp crying out somewhere. So what is my article about?
I think differently. I was informed of the circumstances that led to the arrival of Vierra onto the Iranian football arena. I have tried to limit my comments because of those circumstances. The casual reader might get the impression my intention is to confront Ivic, the current Croatian coach of the national team. Fortunately, this is not the case.
Talking about Vierra, I kept asking myself how could I explain the situation from a without appearing to side with Vierra? Hossein Tavana in his comments below has said what I wanted to say for a long time but I could not find the right words. Thank you Hossein khan. I feel a load has been lifted from my shoulder.
He wrote: "We all know that we have a bunch of talented players, but it is very difficult to impose a very tight discipline on them. You might disagree, but it is something cultural. Vierra was giving the players the freedom to play based on their intuition, but within a strategic plan. That's what our team and players need. Our soccer was successful when there was an emphasis on 'gheyrat' and talent. Trying to restrict our players within a rigid discipline and defensive tactic has never worked. We have the same type of Latin American soccer and we need that type of coach. It is unfortunate that the decision-makers don't see the cultural, scientific and tactical issues in choosing a coach."
And I say:
Exactly! I propose that had Iran kept Vierra as the coach, our football would have been revolutionized in terms of management and coaching decentralization. We lost the opportunity to test this option. I say test because I want to be candid in saying I am not naive to believe it was going to be a 100% successful experiment.
Never in our history of football had we found a coach who would give freedom to players. Agha Heshmat does not even come close. Maybe "zende-yad" Dehdari, but even he upheld the highest ethical and moral standards that at times were not shared by his players. Frank O'Farrel, the Manchester United coach who coached our team from 1973 to 76, on the first day of practice said to the players, "I don't care who you are and how popular you are among your club fans. Around here you play the way I tell you. If I could kick George Best out of the field, I can do the same here." So much for football freedom.
My contention is that the committee gang in Tehran cheated us from a great opportunity for their own reasons. Not that they are even aware of the impact of their actions. No. This state of oblivion reminds me of the poem which ends with "va an kas keh nadaanad keh nadaanad." This self-appointed group does not even know the basics about soccer. In the process of managing the World Cup 98 budget, they aborted the breakthrough of the century. We lost our chance to try for at least once the "freedom of play."
I am fully aware freedom can end up in catastrophic results. But let's face it: our *footballian* experiment was producing positive results. The results of an experiment never deceives you. Theories do! The whole ordeal was similar to a comment made by the late Arthur Ash.
Charlie Rose was interviewing the AIDS-stricken Wimbeldon champion. He asked Ash about Bijorn Borg. Ash said something to this affect, "Borg cheated us, I mean the rest of the tennis players. He retired from tennis at a time when we all wanted to face him, to combat him, to defeat him. He had defeated us many times in the past and it was unfair that he suddenly left the court for whatever reasons he might have had at the time." (Interestingly, Ash had defeated Borg in more matches than Borg defeated Ash.)
One reason I say we were cheated out of this great opportunity for our football is that for the first time in the history of Iranian football we could observe an understanding between the then Federation President, Dariush Mostafavi, and the head coach Vierra. Mostafavi stayed out of Vierra's work to a great extent. There are a host of reasons for this. For one thing, certain selfless individuals were involved who acted as "catalysts" between the two entities. Names need not be revealed here. Football fans who followed the course of events know.
I am not saying Iran qualified to France because of that. Let's settle the question of qualification by accepting the trivial answer offered by the conservative, religious sector: It was the "Hand of God." But qualification is not my point of discussion. That short-lived spirit of freedom *is*. That is what we are going to miss for a long time. It was like the first year after the revolution when everybody felt there was freedom. You could say anything you wanted.
The freedom experiment was supported and welcomed by every player in the national team. Abedzadeh courageously stood before national TV and said, "As the captain of this national team I find it my duty to thank Mr. Mayeli Kohan and his assistants for all their efforts." "Nevertheless," he added, "I want to say that Vierra gave us the kind of space and freedom players needed in order to overcome the qualification ordeal."
This is the core of the issue: giving *space and freedom*.
Nevermind that it was un-Iranian to treat a family the way we treated Vierra and his wife. Heck, even the conservative sports magazine Kayhan Varzeshi characterized the whole treatment as un-Islamic. Nevermind that a "dam paaee beh paa" suddenly crawled from nowhere and became the "ghayem" of Iranian football and said "the committee does not approve Vierra's plan for the next six months." Excuse me, did Ivic submit a 20-page plan of action before he was signed in? Probably not. It is just that his salary was higher, hence a higher commission. Vierra asked for a very small salary -- less than a senior engineer in Silicon Valley. Nevermind that the committee took over the management of the $750,000 FIFA bonus because of the World Cup qualification. Somebody has to pay the wheelers and dealers their commissions, right?
Mind this: A sports revolution was aborted before it could breathe. We lost a great opportunity to breathe space and freedom even if it meant only for a short period. The baby was not allowed to be born to let us see how he would grow.
We decided to rely on our usual behavior, to control. We control because we do not trust the spirit of liberty. We do not want this liberty because we are insecure. Liberty naturally brings with itself some sense of responsibility. And responsibility is what our current football committee lacks.
World Cups come and go. This great nation of ours has produced the likes of Sardar Ghelich and Captain Parvin; "fel-felis" such as Rowshan and Khorshidi; high caliber goal scorers Piyoos and Garoosi; gentlemen such as the late Ghayeghran and zendeh yad Dehdari; skillful players such as Daei, Azizi and Eskandarian; runners like Mahdavikia, Ghasempour, Sadeghi and Karo Haghverdian; and goalkeepers like Asli, Hejazi, Rashidi, Soltani, Agha Hosseini, Abedzadeh and Nakisa. I am sure the next Ali Daei is kicking a soccer ball in the alleys of Ardebil right now.
But what we will have a hard time to repeat is to experiment with the idea of decentralization of our soccer coaching and the establishment of the spirit of freedom within our football ranks. Why is it unlikely? Because this phenomenon occurs only occasionally when all the required elements and catalysts are present.
The painful realization is that it was not by chance that we lost it. It was rather by design. It was a planned abortion. That is why Vierra was treated the way he was treated. Since when abortion is a pleasant experience?
After the recent Iran-Hungary game, in which Iran played poorly and lost 0-2, the huge crowd at Tehran's Azadi stadium cried out "Vierra, Vierra." It was the same cheers as they had delivered to the skies of an Autumn in Tehran when the national team arrived from Australia and the helicopter carrying the team members landed on the Azadi field.
After the Hungary match, the crowd rose again to testify before sports historians, as well as the football committee, that they opposed this abortion. They acquitted themselves before the pages of history. Iranian football followers continue to see the truth.
About the author
Hooshyar Naraghi is the publisher of Sportestan Publishing's Iranian Sports Homepage (ISH) in San Francisco's Bay Area. He is an Iranian sport advocate. He believes writing is a disease. The only cure is to co-exist with it. (back to top)