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Iraq and Katanec’s contract: Smoke, mirrors and Iranian spies!

On Sunday the Iraq FA released its 37-man squad for the Iraqi national team’s upcoming friendlies with Argentina and Saudi Arabia next month. From the moment the names were published, there has been fierce debate on the selections made by Iraq’s new Slovenian coach Srečko Katanec.

The main talking point is centered around Katanec’s Iranian agent, who has several Iraqi players as his clients and speculation on whether he had a hand in squad selections. According to Haidar Zaki, a loud and brash presenter for Dijla TV sports show Studio Al-Jumahar, there were question marks over who was actually selecting the players. Zaki along with his producer Hassan Al-Baidhani tend to search for the crux of a problem in a story rather than to get down to searching for any solutions. For them drama sells, whether there is any truth in the story or not.

According to Zaki, who declared after reading the Facebook post from Behrooz Dezhbod, Katanec’s agent, that the Iranian agent had been getting involved in team selections after asking why mughtarabeen (expatriate) players were being selected ahead of local league players. Though if you read the Iranian football agent’s post, he was only pointing out why so many in Iraq had such a low opinion on the quality of the players in the domestic league and added there was talent in Iraq.

The sports program interviewed an Iraqi FA official on the Iranian agent’s comments. “Has he returned to us?” said Kamil Zaghir, who himself resembles a villain from a James Bond movie, “to interfere with our work again, I don’t know really, God willing, I will take a serious stand against this person, he’s interfering in our players,” then admitting he had not even read the Iranian agent’s Facebook post!

Iraq FA official Kamil Zaghir

Iraq FA official Kamil Zaghir (Iraq Football Association/Facebook)

The Iranian spy

Kamil Zaghir is the same person who only a few weeks ago called the Iranian football agent “an Iranian spy.”  But Studio Al-Jumahar as they have known to do in the past, changed their agenda and demanded FA official Kamil Zaghir be re-appointed team supervisor of the Iraqi team to remove any suggestions of meddling from the Iranian agent, as they saw the incumbent team manager, Basil Gorgis, was a weak personality and allowed certain things to pass. For Studio Al-Jumahar everything seems so serious and imminent, when it never is. The sports show stated Behrooz would cause great unrest in Iraqi football with the issue of local league and foreign based players. Everyone loves a soap opera.

But this is one of the concerns that crops up when foreign coaches are appointed to the Iraqi national job. Katanec has not come out on Iraqi TV to refute such allegations and rarely makes any media statements, so the Iraq FA, their officials and the media can peddle whatever story they want to set their agenda, as Kamil Zaghir has done, with allegations Behrooz Dezhbod was an Iranian spy transferring every small thing to Iran who are in Iraq’s 2019 Asian Cup group. This accusation is as credible as Kamil Zaghir’s ability to give a straight answer, he has been known to say one thing and contradict himself the next!

The presence of Katanec’s Iranian football agent Behrooz Dezhbod within the delegation of the Iraqi team has caused large and extensive discussions in Iraqi football circles, after he was seen attending a team meeting with the rest of the training staff led by the Slovenian coach. There has been some unease with his football agency Persian Stars Ltd having six current Iraqi players on their books who have been named in the national team. And that is the main issue, with the belief expatriate or foreign based players who have been sidelined for so long in the past, will find their positions further marginalised by the interests of the Iranian agent. One such player is Karrar Jassim, who has been in great form, incidentally in Iran’s Persian Gulf Pro League with Sanat Naft Abadan, and as one Iraqi football fan suggested to the Iranian agent on Facebook, if Karrar had been his client, the talented midfielder would be in the squad, and with that remark, Behrooz replied that he should seek out a good doctor!

Behrooz himself has stated the strict Slovenian coach does not allow anyone to interfere in team selections.

Srečko Katanec and his agent Behrooz Dezhbod

Srečko Katanec and his agent Behrooz Dezhbod (Behrooz Dezhbod/Facebook)

The story behind the Iraqi soap opera

But the personal attacks to Behrooz Dezhbod relate to individual interests within the FA and football circles. Iraq FA member Kamil Zaghir expressed his deep displeasure to the presence of the agent during the presentation of the Slovenian coach Katanec to the media in the capital Baghdad, as well as his presence at the residence of the team in Arbil. “I consider the Iranian football agent as a spy recruited against the Iraqi team and we do not accept his presence with coach Katanec in his meetings with the training staff.” Behrooz is an Iranian who wants to know every little thing about the national team to transfer the coach’s plans to his own country, which plays against Iraq in the same Asian Cup group. I ask everyone not to talk about nationalism and ideals, because Behrooz is a threat to the Iraqi national team and must be removed,” he said.

The Iranian football agent who was based in the United Kingdom and had been known to have been opposed to the regime in Tehran, took the criticism in his stride and in an instagram comment jokingly wrote “The Spy 007-8 . 🕵️♀️… i hope everyone gets the position and the responsibility which they deserve … 🙏 🇮🇷 🇮🇶 #bright future #respect #education”.

Iraq's coach Srečko Katanec (in middle) with his agent Behrooz Dezhbod, right, and the Iraq FA president Abdul-Khaliq Masoud, on the left, signing the three year contract.

Iraq’s coach Srečko Katanec (in middle) with his agent Behrooz Dezhbod, right, and the Iraq FA president Abdul-Khaliq Masoud, on the left, signing the three-year contract. (Behrooz Dezhbod/Facebook)

The acerbic comments made against the Iranian football agent, revolve around Katanec’s contract, with several individuals, including FA members, having allegedly lost a personal cut in a percentage of any future contract the FA signed with a coach because of the Iranian agent. This is why some suggest, FA officials were eager to force the Slovenian to add two local Iraqi staff members to his team, just hours after he was presented to the Iraqi media. There is a saying in Iraq, “interests have been hit,” and that is the main story. In negotiations in the past, the Iraq FA had dealt with a specific football agent in the Middle East, however when they went searching for a new coach to succeed Basim Qasim, the Iraq FA and their members insisted they would not employ a football agent to look for a foreign coach. Behrooz was Katanec’s agent and worked on his behalf.

Then days after Katanec’s first game as coach in Kuwait, former Iraq coach Hakim Shaker made allegations that a member of the three-man committee, implying FA vice president Sharar Haidar, had an agreement with Behrouz’s Iranian football agency Persian Stars Ltd to sign with Katanec so they could take a cut of the Slovenian’s contract. The deal allegedly included Iraqfpg website owner Mohammed Al-Rawi – “blackmailing the Iraq FA first vice president Sharar Haidar,” Dubai-based match agent Aimar Rissan of IAST Sports and the ex-Iraq captain Nashat Akram, a client of Behrooz during his playing days.

The Iraq FA summoned Hakim Shaker to a press conference on September 17 at 8pm at the Baghdad Hotel to reveal his evidence about Katanec’s contract, however he refused and instead returned to the Studio Al-Jumahar sports show to make even more outrageous allegations.

However the coach failed to produce any credible evidence to back up his own claims. Hakim Shaker also sensationally claimed the Iranian agent had threatened Iraqi new cap and Al-Zawraa’s young prospect Safaa Hadi to sign with his agency for five years and if he had refused, the midfielder would never have played for the national side again. The attacks against Behrooz Dezhbod were reportedly linked to Hakim Shaker’s own personal relationship with the football agent based in the Middle East who had been the agent of several Iraqi players and had a previous arrangement with Hakim. The accusations were borne from infighting between the two main football agents in Iraqi football.

The website or Gilgamesh Press published a story where they claimed the initial agreement with Katanec had been for $150,000 US and a contract had been agreed with the Slovenian until the parties intervened and convinced the coach he would be given $450,000 in exchange for signing a contract worth $1.2m. “A three party agreement was signed between Behrooz, the agent of Katanec’s,” it wrote. “The godfather of the deal is the former international player Nashat Akram and the head of the negotiating committee, Sharar Haidar,” the article stated, without any proof of such an agreement or deal.

The Iraq FA in response to the claims, posted a video statement from the Slovenian, with the FA’s first vice president Sharar Haidar asking or somewhat forcibly, in an interrogating style. He directing his questions to the Iraqi national coach about the allegations, in which Katanec dismissed any suggestions of such a deal and concluded the Iraq FA should take the person who had made the claims to court.

In Iraq, even in football, whenever there are personal interests being “hit,” there is always a straight forward answer, but hidden hands will never reveal them. It’s all smoke and mirrors and the rest are stories conjured up by people to conceal the truth and everything else is just a side show.

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