Dragan Skočić, the head coach of Iran, was born in Rijeka, a port city in Croatia near the Adriatic Sea. As a former player, his career as a midfielder spanned from 1987 to 2004. His most prominent stint came with Spanish side Las Palmas, then in the Spanish second division.

He is the first Croatian to play professional soccer outside the Croatian borders. He did not have a career glittered in success, but he was a pioneer, nonetheless.

Skočić turned his playing career into one as a manager, where he is currently the head coach of Iran set for World Cup 2022.

Club managerial career

After retiring from his professional career in 2004, Skočić went on to manage eight different clubs. Four of those teams were from Iran’s Persian Gulf Pro League.

However, his greatest glory came in 2006 with Rijeka, the side he played for a total of five seasons over two stints. Skočić led Rijeka to its second Croatian Cup in his first, and only, season at the helm in 2005/06.

After bouncing around Slovenia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, he returned to Rijeka for one season. Then, he entered the Iranian soccer scene.

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In the Persian Gulf Pro League’s 2013 season, Skočić led Malavan F.C. to 7th place, the club’s best finish. That season, Foolad FC won the Persian Gulf Pro League. Foolad signed Skočić as its head coach. Then, that May, the Croatian won “Coach of the Month”.

Head coach of Iran

After a one-year stint with SNA F.C., Skočić earned appointment as head coach of Team Melli – the Iranian national team. Since February 6, 2020, Dragan Skočić led Iran to an impressive 15-1-1 record. With an 88%-win percentage, Iran won 13 out of its first 14 games. They sat atop their group in 1st place throughout qualifications for World Cup 2022. Outside of Qatar as the host nation, Iran was the 1st team to qualify from Asia.

In an interview with the Iranian state news agency, Skočić spoke of the upcoming Group B match between USMNT and IR IRAN as having no political relevance.

Skočić and USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter mirror similar philosophies when it comes to the history between USMNT and Iran exchanging flowers before their match at World Cup France 1998. Both coaches have the mentality that it is just a game and both coaches focus solely on the sport.

“For us, it’s a soccer game,” said Berhalter to the Associated Press. “We have a lot of respect for Iran; we think it is a good team. And now we are just trying to figure out how to beat them.”

Iran and soccer

As head coach of various Persian clubs, Dragan Skočić dwelled in Iran for the past eight years.

“Iran is something different than people think. Everyone talks about the politics, but I have never seen the hospitality that I have experienced in Iran.”

Skočić refers to Iran’s lavish hotels and residences that offer majestic experiences. Most recently, the Iranian government declared they’d waive visa fees for tourists traveling to and from Qatar for the World Cup. However, controversy still abounds in the country regarding the beautiful game. On March 29, 2022, thousands of Iranian women purchased tickets to attend a World Cup qualifying match. However, security and officials at the stadium pepper-sprayed the women upon arrival.

This incident was an example of perfidy, causing FIFA to repeat its admonitions to the Iranian government.

As he purports, Skočić’s focus remains on the sport, not the outside politics. With the World Cup in Qatar not far from Iran, there is an increased focus on the head coach of the Iran National Team.

Skočić is a man on a mission with a chip on his shoulder. “Many underestimated me and didn’t respect me. But, I’m very happy because I proved myself.”

The Croatian maintains a disciplined mindset ahead of a challenging Group B schedule. The Croatian-born Virgo plans on letting the ball – not politics – do the talking.

PHOTO: Mohammad Karamali/DeFodi Images via Getty Images