Zico is a man that needs no introduction. He is one of the most famous names in world football, who was nicknamed the White Pele. He came to Iraq amid grand fanfare in the early hours of Saturday, 27 August 2011 with the Iraqis truly believing that he would be the man to help them qualify for the World Cup in his homeland. He has only been to Iraq five times. Twice to train the team, once to sign his contract and one time in which he was supposed to have watched a local league game but fell ill and had to watch the game in his hotel room. The last time came in the summer when he came to Baghdad to hold talks on a contract renewal.
Before Iraq’s opening World Cup qualifying match in Arbil, Zico had been expected in Iraq for more than a month but each day the date of his arrival was delayed and rearranged. This has been a reoccurring narrative of his tenure in the Iraq job and during one training camp in China, Zico actually arrived a day after the team with his Brazilian coaching staff and translator. A local coach took charge of the training sessions in Zico’s absence. So have been his post-match declarations of his intent in changing things in the side before quickly flying back to Rio and spending his time with his family. He did exactly that after the disastrous performance at the Pan Arab Games in Doha with a sub-par selection filled with players that should never have pulled on an Iraqi jersey. Zico stated that new players would be named after being thumped 3-0 by Bahrain before being on the first plane back to Rio and taking part in a charity game with Ronaldo and Neymar.
Before the opening match in the second round of the World Cup qualifiers and while in the middle of a training camp in Turkey, Zico jetted off to Munich to play in a All-Star game before the UEFA Champions League final. This example of his dedication to the Iraqi team really speaks volumes of a man that declares he is always professional and gives everything to the job. For $2.5m a year, he is not value for money nor is the team’s record under him anything to boast about.
In his first game, only seven days after taking over, he selected practically the same eleven and formation that had been used under coach German Wolfgang Sidka, the man he replaced. Iraq lost 2-0 to Jordan in Arbil but the blame was placed on the FA for appointing the Brazilian at the last minute.
He had more luck in Singapore, where he won his second game 2-0 and the team went onto top their group. This papered over the cracks of an ageing team in decline.
Two of Iraq’s best players Younis Mahmoud and Nashat Akram born in 1978 and 1980 (though their passports mention the years 1983 and 1984) are a spent force and many of the others have passed their sell-by date so to speak. One of the ‘new’ players that Zico brought into the team after his call for innovation in the national team was Nour Sabri, a goalkeeper that was first called into the national team in 2000 under Adnan Hamad. He was supposedly born in 1984 when he was entered by the Iraq FA for the 2000 Asian Youth Championship but today his passport states 1980 as his year of birth.
After defeats in opening two matches of the second round, Zico called for changes (before jetting off to Florida to take part in a football clinic) and for the Japan game, he dropped 10 players though they returned for the trashing handed out by the Brazilians in Malmo and lined-up in Doha. Against Australia, Zico like many of his predecessors pinned his hope on the creativity of Iraq’s old talisman Nashat by playing two water-bottle carriers in the middle, Khaldoun and Muthanna, to battle and win the ball in the centre of the pitch. They flopped and so did the rest.
After a year in charge, in which the inept Iraqi FA has given Zico the freedom to fly home to Rio after every match, he has paid no attention to the Iraqi league to look for new talent while the FA unbelievably names the squad selection itself. Zico says that only he names the squad however I doubt he has seen the likes of Walid Salim, and Ali Bahjat in the Iraqi league.
Zico’s seemingly lethargic approach to the Iraqi job is alarming – he trains the team for a few days, puts out his side for a game and whether Iraq wins or losses, he is back in Rio 24 hours after the match. But this has happened from day one and I don’t expect things to change.
I would say sack him and the person who gave him the contract to take liberties with the team, but Zico maybe the man to build a new national side. The mission when he was appointed in 2011 was to qualify for the World Cup however that looks seemingly impossible now after picking up only two points from four games. His legacy could be to rebuild the team but that is only if he brings the whole squad back home to Rio, where he spends majority of his time.
The CAS/TAS Tribunal is due to make its ruling on the infringements associated with Iraq FA’s election in 2011 and FA president Najih Humoud and his right hand man Al-Mullah Abdul-Khaliq Masoud is expected to be given the boot. We may have to wait longer for Zico to notice that he is not wanted.