Slovenian Dawn in Mesopotamia

Iraqi football has entered a new era this week, with the signing and presentation of the new national team coach - Srečko Katanec. 

The Slovenian football legend has signed as the head coach of the Lions of Mesopotamia for the next three years, in a contract evaluated in $1.2 million US dollars per year. 

In a press conference earlier this week, Katanec has declared his vision and goals. "I don't have a magic stick, but I know, thanks to my experience, how to successfully develop the team”, he said, regarding the forthcoming Asian Cup that will take place in January at the UAE. 

“I told the FA that If they want immediate results in the Asian Cup, they can look for a new coach. I want to win everything, but we will go to this Asian Cup to see how the players respond to this kind of tournament”, he added.

The Slovenian is a notable European football figure. He grew up in Slovenia to a family of Croatian descent. He played for Olimpija Ljubljana, Dinamo Zagreb, Partizan Belgrade and starred for the Yugoslavian national team in the 80's & 90's. He has also played in Stuttgart and shined at Italian club Sampdoria for 5 long years before he retired and switched to coaching. 

As a coach, he worked for the Slovenia U21 & Gorica, before taking over the Slovenian national team and leading them to an impressive Euro 2000 and World Cup in 2002. He continued to Olympiacos, the Macedonian national team and then arrived the Middle East when he signed for the UAE national team. He came back for another spell in Slovenia in 2013, and now, after a year off, he accepted the Iraqi offer. 

The signing of Katanec has put a definitive end to one of the most surprising sagas in Iraqi football this year - the negotiations with Swedish coach Sven Goran Eriksson

Eriksson was Iraq’s main target for the job, but later on, he decided to turn the offer down, before meeting the Cameroonian FA and eventually picking none of the offers.  

Katanec’s take over at the Iraqi national team has seen the arrival of technical staff.
Aside of his assistants from Bosnia and Slovenia and local Ahmad Khalaf, for the surprise of Iraqi football community, Katanec has brought his son Oscar to join the staff as a fitness coach. 

Oscar, 24, is a certificated Strength and Conditioning coach, certified Personal Trainer and former motocross racer. Later on, it was cleared that he will work without a salary. Yet, the issue made the media in Iraq to be suspicious about the essence of this decision by their new coach. 

Katanec will hope to reunite Iraq national team and to use the momentum from the return of international football to the country, in order to gather a good team for the Asian Cup. However, his master target is the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a tournament that has become important to Iraqi football lately. 

Different reports from last week in Iraq & Lebanon claimed that for the next two seasons the Iraqi Premier League will be called the Iraqi Q22 League, as part of a quite bizarre sponsorship deal with the Organising Committee of the forthcoming World Cup in Qatar, who paid a sum which was evaluated in $2m dollars through a third-party.

The new coach will need some time to organize a solid team of this Iraqi generation. Bassim Qassim is a great coach, but in order to fulfil the potential of these players Iraqi FA must have patience and time for setting the elementary principles. Next to players like Ali Adnan, Human Tariq, Alaa Abdul-Zahra and others, players like Brwa Nouri, Mohannad Ali & Ali Faiz are knocking on the door, with Qatar 2022 being a massive target for this generation of one of the most football passionate nations in Asia. 


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