Once you get to know Dragan Skocic, you will bet on his success. He is the coach behind the Iran team but he is more than this – once a player and a national idol in his country of Croatia. He has been brought in to help the struggling Iranian national team to the FIFA World after they began slow and struggled in the 2022 qualifiers.
It would be unthinkable for Iran not to take their place, so first went Queiroz and then went Wilmots. The national team was in that turbulent period where they struggled to match the personality of the man with the ambitions of the team.
As with any new manager coming in, the task Skocic faces is monumental. Let’s look at the career of the man and then his hopes for changing the fortune of the Iranians.
Who is Dragan Skocic?
First, you should know that his playing career was successful. So many managers have mediocre careers and move into managing due to a ceiling on their rise in the game. However, though Skocic began his playing days for local club Rijeka and NK Novalja, he was then signed for Les Palmas and Compostela. He was the first Croatian to play abroad.
When his playing career came to its natural conclusion, Skocic completed his coaching badges with the Football Academy at the Croatian Football Academy. He then went on to deepen his education with the Coach Education and Training Department at the University of Zagreb. He has a master’s degree in the Coaching Profession and he also completed a master’s degree in Sports Management in Split. As you can see, this is a man who wants to know the ins and outs of the game and the logistics, theory and opinion on how to help a team succeed.
He started his coaching career with his home club of Rijeka, where he started his playing career. He helped them win two trophies – winning the Croatian Cup in 2005 and 2006. A pretty impressive beginning. It is not surprising that he moved on to bigger clubs, taking on the role of Head Coach with Interblock Ljubljana – again helping the club to two trophies in two years. It was at this time he drew attention from Middle Eastern clubs who are always known for backing a winner with some cold hard cash. He coached in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, with some impressive results. He took Al Nassr through to the third round of the AFC Champions League.
He then spent time at his old club back home in Rijeka before moving to Malvan. It is at this point that he entered the Iran Pro League, named as the head coach of Foolad – the Iran Pro League title-holders. He stayed here until 2018 when he made his move to club Khooneh be Khooneh and then on to become the Iranian national team head coach.
At each stage of his career, he has won trophies and taken teams beyond their obvious potential. His CV is littered with trophy wins and title holders – so it is easy to see why Iran turned to the man for their salvation.
How does Skocic see the future?
First, it is important to note that this is Skocic’s first international manager’s post. Therefore, you can imagine that having only signed the contract in February 2020, he is still a little awed by the prospect. He claimed his commitment is the 80 million Iranians who passionately support the national team, which is exactly the right attitude in this country. He accepts that he will always have a limited time with the players to imprint on them with his philosophy but he is excited by the pool of talent he can draw from. From this analysis, it seems that his lack of experience is not blinding him to the challenge ahead.
He has a difficult time ahead. Iran has been defeated in games against Iraq and Bahrain in their opening four games in qualification. They are currently third in their group – with a real danger of elimination hanging over the team. This is a significant underachievement considering the talent available to the team. Therefore, Skocic is clear that his first job is to carry out a detailed analysis of the team – as well as the opponents – to get a clear idea of the path towards improvement and victories.
What is comforting for Iranian fans is that the Croatian can see a clear way to qualify. They are lucky to have four games at home and he knows they will have massive support from the fans. The next two games are against Hong Kong and Cambodia, so he has every hope of making a strong start with two convincing victories. If they can then win at least one of the two home games against Iraq and Bahrain, then qualification seems assured.
What is clear is that Skocic knows how to win. Therefore, with this in mind and the schedule on their side, Iran may have made the best decision ever in their quest to get to Qatar 2022.