Masterclass Carlos Quieroz
The Iran boss on young managers, the traits that great players share, and how to beat Barcelona
Carlos, you’ve been both a first-team coach and assistant manager. What is the difference between the roles? I’d say the main difference between the two is responsibility. The manager is the leader and the one who’s entrusted with making good decisions regarding every single aspect of the team. In both roles, you must not ignore your principles and always remain loyal. You’ve been a coach since 1984. What tips would you give to the 30-year-old Carlos Queiroz at the beginning of his managerial career? If I could give him one bit of advice, I’d tell him to try to stay in a positive mood at all times, regardless of what football throws at you during your career. That’s a valuable piece of advice but also hard to follow because, despite what a lot of people think, being a manager is a very difficult and demanding job.
A lot of younger coaches are coming through at the top level these days – why do you think this is?
There isn’t a secret recipe for becoming a successful manager. It all depends on the individual’s ability to do the job well. I don’t believe age is either a benefit or a negative aspect for having a career in this profession. What I do believe is that the success of a manager always comes from their knowledge, experiences and leadership, and these three factors have no relation to their age.
Have you had to alter your coaching style over the years, and do you work differently with modern footballers compared to previous generations?
Being a step ahead of your time is not just an obligation for every manager – it’s the only possible way to success. If you really want to become a successful coach, adaptation is a non-negotiable characteristic that you must have and then develop. Every great manager in football history knew how to adapt to different situations on and off the pitch. Have I changed my style since my early days? The best coaches don’t change – they just improve! You have coached Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane. Do the greatest players share traits? Definitely. They aren’t the best players in the world because of magic, luck or anything else. They are who they are because of two crucial elements. First, an intelligent, systematic and intense manner in how they prepare for every training session and take care of their minds and bodies away from the pitch. The second, which I strongly believe in, is that super-athletes are mentally and psychologically stronger than normal athletes, and this difference means the greatest players are often a fraction of a second ahead of the others. You helped Alex Ferguson (below) to produce a tactical masterclass when Manchester United faced Barcelona over two legs in the 2008 Champions League semi-finals. How ow did you get the players to understand your instructions? The simple game has four crucial elements: space, time, number, and the harmonic mixture of all three. You will find some sides who are usually dominant in space, others in time, others in numbers. The quality of that specific Barcelona team made us believe that United could not approach the match focusing on number or time. So we planned to approach the semi-final trying to dominate the space element. This meant trying to control the zones of the pitch where Barcelona normally beat their opponents. In simple terms, we managed to occupy the key spaces of the pitch before Barça could use the same spaces to hurt us.
How were you able to deny Barcelona space in both legs, stay organised and maintain concentration?
The idea of what we wanted to achieve in the two games was the starting point for us. This meant we had very clearly decided what we wanted and needed to do. Then you have to work hard and pick the correct preparation methods to help get the job done – and that’s what we did. We were completely sure about what we had to do against Barcelona, which was beating them by occupying the crucial spaces of the pitch. And we all understood that was something we could not give up or forget for a second of those 180 minutes.
Do you think some coaches are trying to over-complicate the game?
Yes. I’m not really a fan of this current tendency to intellectualise the game – football is a simple game. I am totally convinced that simple approaches are the best way to make all of your players understand what you want from them. In football, as in life, the ones who can understand are the ones who dominate. I grew up playing a lot of street football, where the game gets played freely and improvements come naturally to people, without pushing. pushing Then I became a manager who really believes in the essence of the game, and it’s all from simplicity. If I a coach tries to reinvent this logic, they are going in the wrong direction. direction I’ve been defending this philosophy for years.
“Super-athletes are mentally and psychologically stronger, so the greatest players are a fraction of a second ahead of the others”