NAMAZI EYES IRANIAN PROGRESS
While few American-born coaches have ever had success abroad, Omid Namazi is attempting to make an impact as an assistant coach for the Iranian national team.
Namazi, 46, is not the first American to become a coach in Iran. From 2009-2011 former Los Angeles Galaxy and US national team assistant Afshin Ghotbi was Iran's head coach. When Carlos Queiroz replaced Ghotbi, he hired two American assistants in Namazi and Dan Gasper.
Namazi officially took the job on April, 2011 and the team is now in the middle of a fierce battle in their campaign to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
"Everything has been good," Namazi told YA from Tehran. "That doesn't mean we do not face challenges on a daily basis, but we face them and try to come up with solutions. The goal for the National Team is to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. We feel we need to have the best preparation plans in place in order to give ourselves a good chance to qualify. Playing friendlies against quality teams, to get us ready for the real competition, has been one of the bigger challenges."
Iran is currently in the fourth round of qualifying in Asia. They are in a group with South Korea, Uzbekistan, Qatar, and Lebanon. The top two teams in the group will qualify for the World Cup. Through two rounds Iran is in second place with four points. Korea is the group leader with six points.
Namazi believes that Iran has the potential to be a force in world soccer with its large population and its passion for the game. The players are technically solid but the tactical side of the game needs improvement.
Namazi emphasizes youth development but he is skeptical that the professional league in Iran is a good developmental tool.
"Iran possesses a lot of talented players," Namazi said. "I believe if proper resources were invested in developing more youth academies, more standard pitches, and a good infrastructure for the professional league, in time Iran can be a force to be reckoned with."
"On a purely technical level the players can be compared to some of the top players in the world," he added. "But there is a lot of room for improvement in the tactical area, speed of play, as well as the fitness and psychological areas. The professional league in Iran does not prepare the players well for international competition."
Namazi was born in Utah to Iranian-born parents. Growing up, he spent a lot of time in both countries. As a young boy he went to school in Iran but returned to the United States for college where he attended the University of West Virginia.
After playing NCAA soccer for the Mountaineers, he embarked on a professional career in the United States. From 1988-2005, Namazi played in various leagues ranging from indoor to outdoor leagues. He was mostly in the minor leagues in the US but he did have a stint with Reading FC in England from 1992-93. In 1996 he was loaned briefly from the Delaware Wizards to the Metrostars in MLS.
As a player, Namazi never earned a cap from the United States national team but he did play with the United States national futsal team in 2002 and 2003.
Following his playing career, Namazi began his coaching career. He coached indoor teams as well as women's teams through 2010. His last job in the United States was with the Chicago Red Stars of the Women's Premier Soccer League Elite in 2010.
Namazi then returned to Iran where he took an assistant job for Iranian club Steel Azin where he coached until he took the job with the Iranian national team.
Despite the cultural and political differences between the United States and Iran, Namazi insists he is not viewed differently because of his American background and citizenship.
"I was born in the States, but obviously through my parents I have deep roots in Iran," Namazi explained. "I am very familiar with the culture there, having spent my school years living in Tehran, and because I speak the language, Farsi, fluently, I am treated no different than a native Iranian. People are very positive and in general have been very warm and friendly to me."
Regarding the adverse relationship the two countries have, Namazi wishes to distance himself from the politics of the situation.
"I'm a professional football coach," Namazi said. "I try to do my best in my area of expertise, which is football, and leave the politics in the hands of the politicians. All I can do is live my life as a good citizen, try to be a good father to my kids, and teach them right from wrong.
As an assistant coach, Namazi is responsible for the team's day-to-day training management as well as scouting, video analysis, and administrative duties. In the future he wants to return to head coaching again but the job with Iran also gives him the opportunity to learn from head coach Carlos Queiroz who has coached top teams such as the Portuguese national team and Real Madrid.
His first goal is obviously to help Iran qualify for the World Cup. But long-term he would like to coach in either Iran or the United States but he is open to all possibilities.
"I'm open to coaching really anywhere in the world," Namazi discussed. "That's how it has to be for a professional football coach. That's the life. Look at Bob Bradley. I have a lot of respect for him. I can only imagine the challenges he faces coaching the Egypt National Team today."
Besides his brief loan to the Metrostars as a player, Namazi has not had any involvement with MLS as a coach or a player. He has had offers to be an assistant coach in MLS but has elected to remain as a head coach in lower leagues.
Namazi still follows the league closely from Iran and does not deny that he is interested in becoming a head coach there one day.
"In the past I have had several offers to coach in the MLS as an assistant," Namazi concluded. "To have an opportunity to come back to the states and be a head coach in the MLS could be attractive. I follow the league very closely. My familiarity with the league and its players could make it a lot easier of a transition in my coaching career. I believe I can be a very successful MLS coach, just as I was in other US leagues that I coached."