Iraq’s new coach Vladimir Petrović gave a stark warning to Iraqi fans not expect too much from him after only one game.
On February 21, 2013, the Serbian coach was announced as the successor to Brazilian Zico after agreeing a one-year contract, beating Frenchman Philippe Troussier, Uruguayan Jorge Fossati and German Lothar Matthäus to the post. The coach known in his native Serbia as Pižon (French for Pigeon) agreed to a one year contract from March 1, 2013 to April 1, 2014 worth $800,000 US, with an option of a renewal and a bonus of $200,000 if he managed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
The Iraqi FA had set specific conditions on the new coach, the first being essential that he worked and was based in the Iraqi capital, unlike previous coach Zico who had spent most of his time in Rio. The second condition was that the coach would follow up the local Iraqi league to select the best players, as well as to continue with the strategy adopted by the FA to retain the young players with some elements of experience. The Serbian agreed to both of the FA’s conditions.
When he arrived in the Iraqi capital in the early hours of March 6, his first words to the Iraqi faithful was for a call for patience, “Don’t judge me on the China game,” a cry to give him time to get to know the players and discover new players to include in the team for the future. These words were not said to get his excuses in early, the Serbian commented.
“I have great confidence in myself to work with maximum ability to get a positive result from this match”, noting that the target should be in the World Cup qualifiers and the first match with Oman on the sixth month of the current year, adding: “When you go to a restaurant, you do not pay until you finish eating, and the same thing applies here! Do not judge from now, but three months from now, and the best meal would be 2014 World Cup qualifiers which will have flavour and taste good. ”
Despite being fully informed about the key pillars of the team, from goalkeeper Nour Sabri, Ali Rahema and captain and striker Younis Mahmoud, and having watched their last ten matches, with only two weeks before the first game against China in Changsha, the FA decided that they would name the squad, something fans have become accustomed to. The coach is expected to monitor the local league for new talent and has already watched two league matches, one in Baghdad and the other one on the World Wide Web!
The coach was interviewed on Al-Hurra Iraq TV and took a stroll through Abu Nawas Street in Baghdad, with the interviewer, his assistant, his Serbian lawyer and agent. On his walk, he witnessed young children playing football and people preparing and eating the traditional Iraqi fish cuisine masgouf, which the coach captured on his iphone and shook hands with soldiers and members of the public.
“This is the same situation we lived in Serbia, but the people are beautiful and love peace and football, and I love the Iraqis and would love to unite them during these difficult times. Football represents unity and place of happiness. Our goal is to produce unity in the national team to achieve success. I have a good idea about the Iraqi players, who I watched at the Asian Cup and the 21st Gulf Cup, and the young good players from the side and we will try to reach the best level in the coming phase despite the time. I wish to make the Iraqi people happy in my work, and we will try to improve the elements of the national side and players and make the necessary changes to reach a better level.”
On the evening of Saturday, March 9, Petrović was officially unveiled as the new coach at a press conference in Baghdad. Petrović expressed his happiness in being in the Iraqi capital, which changed his perception of the city.
“I see the Iraqi national team at a high level, which was clearly evident during the video tapes of games I watched and I admire the players, which was a motivation for me to sign with him and also hope to be succeed in roles the last three crucial games to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil, through the support and dedication of FA who will be of help to me facilitate my work with Iraqi football and return it to what it was in recent years and I am a messenger for the happiness of the supporters who eagerly follow the national team because they are hungry for victories and success.”
The contract talks were reported to have gone smoothly but Ali Nouri writing an article for Qithara Al-Riyadhi, published on March 16 stated that there had been a disagreement over the amount stipulated in the compensation clause in the contract, if the coach resigned or he was sacked. The journalist noted that the signing during the press conference had been for the benefit of the Iraqi media, because the two parties had not agreed on the amount of compensation that would be paid to the coach. The initial offer to the Serbian coach almost caused the deal to fall apart only hours before he was to be unveiled at the press conference.
The FA had offered only $150,000 US in the preliminary contract, in the event of the coach being sacked while the coach had demanded $350,000 US, and in the case of his resignation for any reason, he insisted that he would not be required to return the amount, otherwise he would not sign the contract. With the press waiting to see the new coach at the Al-Shaab for the training session, it put the FA in an awkward position and they managed to persuade the coach to take charge of the training session and negotiations would resume after the session and his official unveiling at the FA headquarters.
After last ditch efforts from the Iraq FA, that dragged late into the night, Petrovic agreed to the amount of $300,000 US that would be paid to him as compensation. In case the coach resigned during the first five months, he would pay $250,000 and if he were sacked, the amount would be $300,000 US.
Things have not been straightforward since then, with two players dropping out of his training session. The first, Hamadi Ahmed, was excluded due to an injury. The coach had spoken to the player after the Air Force striker had asked him for a period of rest to recover from an injury he had suffered during the CISM World Military Championship. The team doctor Qasim Al-Janabi examined him and confirmed that he had recovered fully from the injury but needed at least two-weeks to return to match fitness, so the coach agreed to him returning to his club. But after he took part in his club’s game with Al-Najaf, only days later, it was reported by Iraqfpg.com that the FA would suspend the player for a year after it was clear after playing in the league game that he was not injured. The second player Amjad Kelaf, the captain of league leaders Al-Shurta, decided not to continue with the training camp at the Al-Shaab. The decision came after it had been confirmed to him, that the new coach would depend on the players that took part in the Gulf Cup only, and as Amjad had not been part of the squad in Bahrain, he would not be flying to China. The disgruntled player apologised to the FA and informed them of his decision and left the camp.
A poorly planned trip from Baghdad to Changsha took over 26 hours, leaving the squad jetlagged and fatigued, was made worse when one of the team’s key player Ali Rahema was forced to return to Iraq after an injury ruled him out of the game with China.
If the man the Serbs call the Pigeon wants to fly to Rio with the Iraqi national team; he will have to do it the hard way.