June 7, 2023

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“0 wins, huge ego and destructive mentality.” Dick Advocaat failed in Iraq

It took three months.

In May 2021, Dick Advocaat brought Feyenoord to the Conference League and announced his retirement for the seventh time . And changed my mind for the seventh time. The Dutchman quickly got bored with life in retirement, two months later he posed against the backdrop of the Iraqi flag. At almost 74 years old, the coach decided it was time to work with Iraq to bring the local team to the World Cup

In Iraq, they believed in Advocate: he was attracted by his Asian experience and the Dutch school

The Iraqi national team played only once in the World Cup – in 1986. Before qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, the Iraqis were determined to repeat the success of 35 years ago, so they were looking for a coach with relevant experience for these goals. 

Stanislav Cherchesov was considered one of the main candidates, but after a five-year period with Russia, he preferred club football. 

But the lawyer was more accommodating. “We had several coaches in mind, and Advocaat is one of those who met all the criteria,” said Adnan Dirjal, president of the Iraqi Football Association and part-time sports minister.

One of these criteria was the Asian coaching experience. Back in 2005, the lawyer discovered the Middle East for himself, leading the UAE team. Surprisingly, even then he first thought about retirement, which he told Sport-Express in 2011:

“By that time, psychological fatigue had accumulated. In 2004, I worked with the Dutch team at the European Championships, reached the semi-finals, but faced a lot of problems, especially in relations with the media. Then he headed Borussia Mönchengladbach for five months – and it was not the best period.

After parting with the German club, he just received an offer from the UAE. I was 57 years old. I considered this option, I confess, as a well-paid vacation. And I planned that on this I would end my coaching career. Before I had time to work in the Emirates for four weeks, I received an offer to participate with Korea at the 2006 World Cup.

I did it – and after nine unforgettable months in Korea, professional hunger returned to me. And the subsequent work at Zenit whetted the football appetite even more, so I didn’t think about retiring anymore. ”

The lawyer went well to that World Cup. The Koreans in 2006 did not repeat the exploits of Hiddink from 2002, but they looked decent: they beat Togo (2:1) and got a draw (1:1) with the future finalist France. 

When appointed to Iraq, the lawyer’s experience of working with the national teams of the Netherlands and Russia, of course, was also taken into account. And the personal sympathy of the Iraqi football boss for the Dutch coaching school also played a role. Adnan Dirjal is not just the minister of sports and the head of the football federation, but also the most famous Iraqi player in the past. During the heyday of local football in the 80s, he played at three Olympics, was the captain of the national team, and missed the World Cup only due to injury. 

After his retirement, Dirjal briefly took charge of the Iraq national team before concentrating on club football. In 2008, he went on an internship at Ajax, where his preferences were fixed: 

“The Dutch play innovative, attacking football. Their style is one of the best in the world. Therefore, when I met with Mr. Advocaat, we talked a lot about the technique and style of the game.”

Expectations were not met: 0 wins in 6 matches, Advocaat mostly worked remotely

Qualification for the 2022 World Cup began for Iraq with matches against group favorites South Korea and Iran. In Korea, familiar to him, Advocaat started well, getting a goalless draw. But to keep the Iranians with Taremi and Azmun in the attack did not work out – the Iraqis got 0:3 from their principal rival.

Iraq captain Alaa Abdul-Zahra (126 caps) remained calm: 

“He needs time, the upcoming games will be better. I learned a lot from Advocate, despite the fact that I have been playing football for a long time. With a coach of this level it cannot be otherwise. This collaboration is a unique opportunity for us.”

Next Advocate was waiting for matches with Lebanon and the main competitor in the fight for the third line – the United Arab Emirates. 

Briefly about the Asian qualifying scheme for the World Cup: it was already the third qualifying round, out of the six participants in the group, the first two places got tickets, and the third team went through to the joints. It is almost impossible to move Iran and Korea, but it was quite realistic to wrestle with the Emirates for the third line.

The plot was reinforced by the unexpectedly formed Dutch derby: the UAE team was then led by Bert Van Marwijk, another ex-coach of the Netherlands national team. The match between the main contenders for the joints turned out to be combat – 2:2 in the Emirates. The ending came out especially hot: in the 89th minute, the Iraqis made it 2:1, but in the 93rd they allowed the opponent to equalize.

It became more alarming when the team did not defeat Lebanon (0:0) and Syria (1:1). The lawyer began the Iraqi stage of his career with Korea, and ended there: after home 0:3, he resigned. 

Iraqis from six matches under Advocate played four at home. But this is only formal: after many years of wars and terrorist attacks, FIFA is afraid to hold matches in Iraq, so the team hosted rivals in Qatar.

“It’s because of what they show on TV. Iraq is now a safe and stable country,” Sports Minister Dirjal said. 

The lawyer was not completely sure that everything was calm in Baghdad, so he did not dare to travel to the country. Most of the time, the Dutchman worked remotely, meeting with the team in Qatar before matches. In an interview with Arab News, the coach admitted that he lacked personal contact with the players: “We always had very little time before the games. We were going on Sunday, and the match on Thursday. The players and mentality were at a good level, but it takes more time and practice to achieve the results we wanted. 

I only traveled to the Middle East for games. And although my two assistants were always there, and I watched all the videos, you can only truly appreciate the quality when you see the players in front of you.