HUMAN IN MEDIA 
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by Mansoor Ansari

PFDC - TEHRAN, Born in 1971, Human started his football career in Rah Ahan FC youth team. He then joined Pas FC youth team and later was selected to Pas first team. But his playing career finished shortly after, due to serious knee injury. He obtained his bachelors degree in English afterwards.

Retiring from playing football so soon, he pursued his love of football in coaching. Human attended several AFC and FIFA held courses and seminars before obtaining his A coaching license from AFC. Some of these classes were specialized in certain fields such as physical training, and others were intended for coaching license. Among his instructors were Erich Rutemoeller, Gary Mabbut, Steve Hodge, and Tomislav Ivic.

Human is considered one of the youngest coaches in Iran who carries the A license from AFC, but he is also known in football world for his research and analytical work. It won't take much time to search in the internet under his name to find several well-known research articles published by him. Some of the interesting articles that reflects the special talent Human has in his analytical work are:

*Modern 4-4-2 Formation Theory (http://www.tacticdesigner.com/modern442theory.pdf)
*A Look at 3-5-2; The advantages and disadvantages (http://www.westoahu769.org/PDF/3-5-2Lineup.pdf)
*A Look at 4-2-3-1 Formation and it's Variation
*A Look at 4-3-3 Formation and it's Variation
*A Look at 4-1-4-1 Formation and it's Variation
*A Look at 4-4-2 Diamond Formation and it's Variation

Human went through research and work in England and USA before gaining the knowledge to present his work. His work in England included research at Manchester United, Liverpool, and Wolverhampton. He also did research work about Bayern Munich club in several areas including
* Playing formations, their variation, and their application in past 6 years
*The structure of Sport Management
*The structure of Sport sponsorship
*The hardware structure of the Computer System for development of football teams
*The structure of club management to enter the stock market, with specific task to reduce the effect of stock fluctuation on the club's management.

Human's work gained him a very special spot in national team for the first time under Miroslav 'Ciro' Blazevic in 2001. The 30 year old then became a personal assistant to Blazevic to assist him with his analytical work. Upon departure of Blazevic, he continued his work with the National Team under Branko Ivankovic, who took over the helm in 2002. Since then, he has been with Branko and just recently was recognized for his valuable work as the national team's analyst.

Aside from his national team work, Human has assumed other positions in Iran's football stage. Such positions are
*2000- Coach, Pas U17
*2002-Technical Advisor, Foolad FC
*2002-Advisor to General Manager, Teraktor Sazi FC
*2002-Technical Director, Shahab FC youth teams
*2002-2005- Head Coach, Shahab FC first team.

Today at PFDC, we have the privilege to interview this extremely talented man behind the scenes.

Mansoor: Thank you dear Human for your time. Let me begin with a general question. What is the role of an analyst in a football team?

Human: The job of an analyst can be divided into three major fields: strategic analysis, statistical analysis, and audio-visual analysis.

In strategic analysis, a coach may use his experience to identify the opponent's strength and weaknesses. Using statistics, the analyst may not only prove his strategic evaluation, but may add some extra edge to the team by providing statistical feedback. These information plays a major role in the team's preparation against their opponents.The analyst's job is also to provide audio and visual materials for players to know their opponents and their own duties. In recent years, computer technology has been a great aid to the analysts in preparing the visual materials.

Mansoor: You have been with the national team for the past five years as the personal assistant first to Ciro and then to Branko. How did you manage your busy schedule during the qualifiers, being assistant to Branko as an analyst while being the head coach for Shahab FC?

Human: Well, I had a very busy schedule. I used to spend the morning hours planning my daily club practices on the computer, later in the afternoon I would go to practice sessions with the players and on return from the practice session, I would spend more time evaluating the day's practice. I would then go to Branko's apartment between 10 and 10.30 and work with him discussing TM related issues until well after midnight, finishing at around 3.00 am. This was a daily occurance. With World Cup around the corner, now I am only focusing on national team and I do not have other resposnibilies to keep me preoccupied. I am committed full time to the national team at this point.

Mansoor: What was your main focus? Analysing the opponent or analysing Team Melli or combination of both? And was it any different from the past experiences, especially during Ciro's era?

Human: After each qualifying match we would focus on our own performance, analysing it both strategically and statistically. We then would concentrate on our future opponent. As a personal assistant, I had match plan recommendations and practices which I believe could be useful, but at the end of the day, it was Branko who would decide what is good and what is not. He sometimes used the recommendations and sometimes not. It was his choice.

On the completion of the priliminary qualifying round, I produced a report based on the critical analysis of our requirements to prepare for the second round which would be at a higher level. The same process was repeated whereby I produced another analysis report after our final game against Japan. This report dealt with our requirements to prepare for the world cup competitions. Of course, the work at national level is more complex than at club level. Players are together for a very short periods of time and not much can be done in such a short time in regards to plans and set goals. That explains why the selection of the players is the most important issue in national teams. Branko has an excellent vision in this matter. He is really a master in what he does.

You also asked me about Ciro. I should say Ciro put me in close contact with Branko. We used to work together and report back to him the same way I now do for Branko. In today's football, head coaches are very busy and they don't have enough time for all the tasks, so the supporting staff play an important role. I don't wish to say we are the best possible team assembled, but we are very well organised, and with mutual respect and understanding for each other. For example, Mr. Faraki has an excellent relationship with the players, and he knows his job as an assistant very well. The same goes for others.

Mansoor: How did Ciro approached you? Were you recommended by IFF or Ciro chose you based on what he knew about you?

Human: I met Ciro just a month after his arrival at one of the federation's offices in 2001. I was visiting Mr. Ranjbar in his office. Ciro and Branko walked in. Mr. Ranjbar introduced me 'as a young coach with prospect and knowledge' to Ciro and Branko. I had a book with myself and Branko asked me if he could take a look at it. Ciro didn't speak English so we didn't talk to each other too much. Branko seemed very quiet, and concentrated on the book rather than the conversation. I felt that they wanted to talk about the national team in private, so I excused myself to leave. Branko asked for my number to keep the book for a while. That was our first meeting.

A week or two later we met again in the national team camp. I was there to watch their first training session. At the end of the training, Branko came to me and told me that he is still studying the book but he would return it as soon as possible. I recommended him another one, and I promised to take him a list of videos and books the day after. That was the beginning of our relationship. After a while and after getting to know each other, Ciro asked me to give him a report on the player's technical abilities. I listed different aspect of their abilities. I treated it as a friendly help to them, not knowing what the future held.

Later they had a friendly match against Slovakia, and I am guessing Nikbakht was tried in a position based on my recommendations. He had a good game and scored as well. After that, Ciro asked me for some video analysis about our opponents in second round qualifiers, and I helped them as a personal assistant. During my days with him from then until now I have neither been hired by the federation, nor paid by them for what I have done.

Mansoor: You have been very close to Branko in recent years and he has referred to you as one of his close friends. Who is Branko Ivankovic?

Human: Branko is a very honest person and a true gentleman. He is a real character and an intellectual. He also likes to help people in need but he does not like these to be mentioned. Football is his life. It is hard to talk to him about life without football for more than three minutes! I really enjoy spending time with him. He has vast knowledge, both social and about football. One can always expect to see new and noble ideas from him. He is very creative.

Unfortunately, there is negativity around him these days which is not fair; But if one becomes a coach, he has to learn to deal with these situations. He has been in Iran for about 4-5 years as our coach which is a record in itself. This shows that he has excellent qualities. No one in Iran's football history has been our coach for such a long period. It is very difficult in Iran to stay at the helm for such a long period because we are very sensitive people and react more to emotions than logic. Being this way, we make our decisions based on our emotions. You have never seen a coach in Iran's national team as let's say Berti Vogts of Germany who stayed for 8 years with Germany's national team. Our norm is one to two years.

Mansoor: You said that you did analyze the opponents during recent qualifiers. Branko has been criticised by some for his conservative approach during these games. What in particular did you see from N. Korea and Bahrain that could be of great danger to Team Melli? Could you share some of your analysis with us?

Human: North Korea was an excellent team in my opinion. They had excellent skills in compact formations, fast transition and playing under pressure, and in pressing and limiting playing areas. They are arguably the best in Asia in these categories. They were excellent on covering the front spaces of the back four. However, they clearly had some short comings; they had no leader. They were weak in their centre half positions to cover the space behind the back 4 in defensive set plays, and in aerial challenges. We wanted to take advantage of the open space behind their back 4 in the away game, as it was a do or die game for them and we knew they would come forward to score and therefore leave their defence open. We scored the second goal that way. We also used their defensive weaknesses on the air to score the first goal.

For the second game, we knew they would play defensive. I watched them practice before the match, and it was clear what they were planning to do. Branko emphasised two things: playing with patience using the width of the field to get room up front, and the set plays. These are the two aspects of the game plan against any compact defence. It was a tough match as they played with 11 players in their defensive third. It is always difficult when you play against opponents with such defensive strategies.

We knew relatively well about our opponents during these games; but neither we nor our opponents were there to play beautiful football. These teams were there to get results and qualify to World cup at any expense. It always takes two to play attractive football. I also would like to bring up a quote from Uli Hoeness, Bayern's deputy chairman. When he was asked to justify the 1-0 victory over Bruges, he said, "I am very angry about being asked to justify a win. This isn't the circus. We play for points and we have taken all three points tonight. Champions League is about winning. You don't get any point for style. Results are the only thing that count." These are the words of Uli Hoeness who is one of the most famous names in world football.

We are professionals. We should think about the success of the team before the artistic aspect of the football. We are not responsible to see if everyone is satisfied with the entertainment. It is impossible to satisfy everyone in any aspect. There are always some players that some may believe they are good enough to be in the team. There is always room for improvement in football performance, and I suppose the easiest thing is to say it was not enough (to win). Even in Brazil and Argentina - which I believe have the best squad and performance at the moment - the media and some people are not satisfied and they think it is not enough (to win). At national level since there are only a few days before each game to prepare, we as professionals should think of success and the best way to achieve it in the shortest time possible. Considering this, I believe Branko has been a very successful coach.

Back to your question, we had two different matches against Bahrain. First game in Manama under Srecko Juricic was a very tough match. We had a bad memory from there. Their coach was an excellent coach who was familiar with Branko's system from years back. They were the host and they did everything possible before the match to distract our team. Their pitch was not even, which made it hard for our players to show their technical skills. There was a big difference in temperature between Tehran and Manama. Given the circumstances, I was personally satisfied with the point we got there although Branko was looking for a win. But it was a battle more off the pitch rather than on the pitch.

The second game was a very hectic one. We knew if we didn't score quickly, it could get tough for us. And, as the time would progress, players could get nervous. The atmosphere was like playing in a final. We had a bad memory from Bahrain in that infamous game four years ago. There were big expectations, and the players were feeling it. We are mistaken if we assume that a young team like ours could go to such a game and play as if it was a show cast. Branko wanted the players to settle the game with an early score, and therefore players were told to attack in the first 15 minutes. We hit the post and had some good chances but we didn't score. After that it was the matter of keeping our nerve. First team to score could finish the game successfully with switching to a compact defence so it was important to attack with enough balance of defensive elements.

For the second half, Branko again stressed to try to score in the first 15 minutes which is what happened. In such games, set plays are very important. We knew their defensive formation on corners and on set plays, and that was how we scored. After the goal, the game was in our hand. It was just the matter of controlling the pace of the game. Bahrain was well known for it's strategy on wasting time in case of scoring, and we had to be very careful not conceding a goal to them. I am really grateful to God for giving us the opportunity to make the people happy after that victory.

Mansoor: Let me turn to your research work on formations. You have published quite a few articles on different formations. In your opinion, of the three formations Iran has used recently, namely 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, and 4-1-4-1, which one suites Iran's top 11-13 players better?

Human: Before Hashemian's return to our squad, 4-2-3-1 was definitely the best suited formation for our top players. 4-2-3-1 has 3 different variations, and we were able to use all three with the available players. But after Hashemian's return, Branko thought about playing with 2 strikers upfront. Hashemian had played 4-2-3-1 in Bochum and at first, Branko used him in the same position. Although he played well in that position, he did not bring any extra edge to the team. That was why we changed to 4-4-2 against Japan in Tehran, and you saw how suddenly Hashemian added an extra class to the team with his performance.

For our current squad, I prefer 4-2-3-1 because a team playing in that formation, has excellent coverage of the field both in attack and in defence. It provides better opportunity to play through the wings, which nowadays is where most goals come from. For our team, a combination of these two formations plus two others provide variety in form of play and plans. The important thing is that we can use these formations to play with the same set of players. It is an excellent advantage.

Mansoor: Iran used 3-4-2-1 during Asian Cups in couple of critical matches and came out successful. What do you think of 3-4-2-1? Would it fit Iran's top 11-13 players better? Considering the fact that Iran is having problem finding quality left backs that can match other players' quality.

Human: I personally have no prejudice about different formations. I am one of those people who think of these issues as secondary. So I am not formation oriented. System-wise, every formation has its advantages and disadvantages, and can be changed depending on player's capabilities. At the moment I believe the 4-2-3-1 formation will suit the team best, while giving the team the possibility of playing all 3 variations.

Playing 3 at the back with a sweeper is rare in international scene as it gives vast tactical advantage to opponents, and on international level, almost all coaches know about it. A flat 3 at the back requires two left and right midfielders up front who are fast in transition. Under that system we will have the same problem in left of midfield as we have for left side of the back 4. Many fans believe playing 3 at back means more players up front and it is more offensive, but it is actually a more defensive formation. In playing 4 at the back more variations are available. For example, in Bayern 3 defensive players join up front such as Lizarazu, Sagnol and Lucio. You may have one or both wing backs joining up front and you will have versatility. In playing 3 at the back on the other hand, you will have 3 permanent defenders. In today's football, it is not important to play with 4 strikers or 1. The transition is the most important issue which creates superiority in numbers. With 3 at the back, teams have less attacking transition options. These are general discussions, but with our current players, I still prefer to play a back four either with a 3 1 format or a 2 2 format. If a team has the right solution, there is no problem to play 3 at the back. We did it in Asian cup where we had the players who were best suited for that formation.

Mansoor: Let's return to Team Melli's recent match. What is your analysis of the match against South Korea?

Human: I have seen the match 4 times so far. I don't want to say that was a good performance but I saw we had some decent chances while Korea had less chances than we did, even in the first half when we did not perform as good as the second half. I am discussing logically and aside from emotional aspects. Logic always loses its way through emotion. Korea was not the better team to say the least, while the match was played in Korea where even bigger teams can lose. They had a new coaching staff which gave players the reason to give 110% to impress the coaching staff. Also those who know about the design of these stadiums, can imagine the atmosphere for the away team. Considering the situation, it was an excellent game for our players. They were a little anxious at the early stage of the game, but that went away as the game progressed.

Some critics have argued about Korea's quality and ranking in the world. Korea has been in to the World cup in all of last 6 competitions, and they have achieved 4th place in the last world cup under the same conditions I mentioned earlier. While getting to the semi finals of the world cup is still a dream for us, Korea already has that under her belt. We in Iran need to learn to respect our opponents. Any team can be defeated. That does not mean we should not respect our opponent and downgrade them just to prove we played bad. China lost to Germany in Germany 1-0 recently, and they had excellent opportunities to score. China is not even in the World Cup.

Form a technical point of view, we have some areas to work on, both on and off the ball. For me, the most important aspects are the changeover from attack to defence and vice versa, and also the ball movement from the back toward the front while the team is under pressure. In addition, we need to work on some areas during the defending phase, both in defensive line and in the whole team as a group. And, we are still looking for final solution for some of the positions.

But the most important factor at the moment for the team and the coaching staff is to be playing friendlies in a normal atmosphere away from media and their exaggerated expectations. This would allows us to evaluate the team better and to evaluate our options to improve, considering the standards of current players and the new faces in the league in the next 8 months. I wish for the media and the fans to be supportive and fair so as to create a better working environment.

TRMansoor: Iran is preparing for next year's World Cup. Before asking about our chances, let me ask you this question: How do you evaluate the level of Iran's football at the moment?

Human: I would like to evaluate our football on two fronts. First the level of Iranian football in general, and next, the level of our national team.

Our football has definitely progressed since the establishment of the professional league, both in it's infrastructure and in its level of performance. However, I think the speed of progress is not fast enough. We have problems with financial resources at club level and therefore, most of the clubs have problem financially. Even those with enough money can not spend it the way our neighbouring countries spend and invest in football. And I don't even want to compare it to Europe. Our annual budget in football is less than what Real Madrid paid to Zidane.

Most of our clubs suffer from lack of infrastructures. They don't have training camps, offices and elementary facilities. They earn nothing from football except by selling players. If we evaluate this situation, it would be easy to say we are not even close to our second class Asian rivals. The proof is what we have achieved in the last decade at club level in Asia or in youth level, which is basically nothing worth mentioning.

Now let me bring up the advantages in our football as well. First is our race and gene. In relation to other Asian countries, we are physically stronger which gives us the ability to play physical football at top Asian level. Second, due to the fact that our nation loves football and many talented athletes come to football rather than other sports, we have vast human resources and talents. Still, I see the infrastructure as a barrier to take advantage of such resources. There are only 160 clubs participating in different levels of our football which is less than what is in Paris and many of them just have a name of what a real club should be, and they are more of a team than a club.

On the other hand, we have a national team which is a product of such infrastructure but surprisingly is playing at highest level in Asia. It is surprising if one thinks logically, but without a doubt, we are performing at the top of Asian football. Iran, South Korea, and Japan are 3 main powerhouses of Asian Football, and are at the same level. We are to each other as South American giants Brazil and Argentina are to each other. They lose when they are away and win at home. That's the way it works. But the fact remains that we are one of Asia's powerhouses. The team consists of an excellent squad and expert staff. I should praise the players before anyone else for what they have done for their country. They have been consistent in their performance during last four years. Also our hard working staff who are being led by Branko have done a wonderful job. I must give Branko a lot of credit for what he has done as the leader of this team. This part of our football, the national team, has done better than the rest of footballing body. In the past four years, all our footballing achievements in Asia have come through our national team. Of course in football , we are all working as a team, in this case the clubs and the national team, and we appreciate what clubs have done for the national team.

Mansoor: Considering many of the shortcomings you mentioned, do you think the expectations are too high from our national team at the moment?

Human: Yes, and sometimes I really don't understand why (such high expectations). Maybe it is because we have been solid in the last four years and some have begun to believe it has been easy, or maybe because we made it to the world cup easily for the first time. I have always said it, and I say it again that expectations should be logical. The expectation for playing beautiful and winning every match, which is something even Brazil can not do, is somehow strange. But of course I accept there are some areas to improve and we are looking into it with great care. In football, there is always room for improvements, but when you reach a certain level, small steps take a long time. There is no magic stick in football. Knowledge, time, hard work, and right path are the keys to success.

Mansoor: Having said that, what can we expect from Iran in the World Cup and what is your assessment?

Human: Well, with the team we have at the moment I am convinced we can put on a decent show in the World Cup. That is something I can guarantee. Of course decent football has vast meaning. For sure you shouldn't expect us to play like Brazil or Argentina, but we will use the rule in today's football that any team can beat any team in any given day. Maybe if we play ten times against Brazil we can beat them only once or twice but it can happen in every one of those matches. We should try to prepare the team in a way that it happens right at the World Cup. Not before and not after.

To answer your question, I can say we have aimed at knock-out stage. Anything more would be a dream come true. And anything less won't be a disaster because the group stage draw has a lot to do with it. What I guarantee however, is that we will be a tough opponent for any team in the World Cup.

Mansoor: To reach this target for WC 2006, what are the preparation plans?

Human: Branko delivered a two-year plan right after the Asian Cup in China. It is a detailed project about our plans for the world cup. For example in that plan, IFF knows when Branko would go to Europe to observe our player's situation abroad and when would we require a friendly and from which continent, and so on. Also, the staff know what to do and when to do it. I have a time table for what I have to do in different phases of the world cup project. Branko's plan consists of three phases. The first phase was the qualification period which we have passed. The second phase is the current period. In this period we should play eight friendly matches. The main point in this phase is the recognition of our advantages and disadvantages, and the standardisation of our line up for different strategies and game plans. The last phase would be the camp in Germany before the world cup which will last about 25 days. During that period we will play 3 friendlies and we will review our match plans and work on weak points according to what we have gathered during the second phase.

Games such as the match against South Korea are just simple friendlies. Our mission is to have the best possible condition right at the beginning of the world cup, not sooner or later. At the moment, our main concern is AFC's announced plan for the Asian Cup qualifiers. It may negatively affect our second phase, and of course the third phase as well. We have to wait until January and see what happens in the draw and decide accordingly.

Mansoor: Some have argued that it seems the National Team squad for the World Cup has already been decided, and that Branko does not pay enough attention to IPL. What is your take on this?

Human: Player selection is not my direct responsibility but I know this (what is said) is not correct. Branko and other coaches observe IPL matches. We have a file for every single player in the league and if players want to be in the squad, they should meet certain requirements. There are general criteria such as physical elements, decision making under pressure and in limited space, fast play, aggression and tendency to participate in defensive duties, ability to regain the ball from opponent, behaviour during transition period, and some other requirements. Of course, there are exceptional players with exceptional talents that bring an extra edge to the team, and in some areas they are given more freedom to use their maximum talents. In general, you can see that this team runs more than previous teams, plays faster, and regains the ball better. We should bear in mind that in a selection process such as this the coach will prioritise factors such as the availability and state of other players, team balance, opposing team and other factors. It is a very sophisticated and scientific procedure and you must be informed of the coach's philosophy, team situation, opponent's situation, and a lot more.

Back to the question again, obviously any coach wishes to have a better team because better team brings better performance and better result. If Branko and his colleagues see any player who meets the requirements, they will definitely call him up to the team. I should remind you that this team has about fifteen players who are under 25 years of age. Who do you think brought most of these players into the national team and from which league?

Mansoor: But there are many who argue that Branko always uses the same players on the pitch.

Human: This is correct to some extent of course. The closer we are to the world cup, the smaller changes there will be. I don't know why this seems to be strange. The French coach Raymond Domenech and Germany's Juergen Klinsmann are under pressure to trim their squad as fast as possible and stop experimenting. During last world cup, we used 14 players from the squad so who should we give the chance to play. those who have more chance to be on the pitch or those who have less chance? These moments are crucial; we should use our friendlies in the best possible way which is giving playing time to the players who have more chance of being a fixed player. They should practice together more and more, and we should find the problems and the solutions to them. Any other way would be a waste of time in my opinion. But of course, Branko is the boss and he will decide about it. What I just said was my personal point of view.

Mansoor: Thank you for the wonderful insights. Any last words?

Human: These players and this team needs support not pessimistic views. They deserve it. They have done an excellent job for their country and people. In football there will always be winners and losers. That's part of the game. You can't always be a winner. I expect those who blame players for their mistakes realise that football is like life. People make mistakes. These players are young, and young people are prone to making mistakes. Against Korea, we had 6 players under 23 sitting on the bench. These are Iran's future in football. We had only Yahya Golmohammadi who was over 30 on the pitch. Around 15 players in this squad are less than 25. Give and take, this team is our national team for the next decade, of course with some minor changes. I should praise Branko again, because the day he leaves our football, he would have laid the cornerstone of our national team for the next 7 to 10 years.

Under a negative atmosphere no one can make good progress and they (the players) have not done any thing bad to create negative atmosphere and pessimism. The coaching staff can bear the pressure and concentrate on the job, although it is not easy, but these young players will have a hard time without support. They are young and they are our future. We should not destroy them. My last word is to wish for fairness and supportive atmosphere.

*Acknowledgment: I would like to thank Mr. Farhad Farrokhi, one of our talented staff, in helping me with this article. His help throughtout this project to increase the quality is greatly apprieciated. Mansoor Ansari.

 

   
 
 
 
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