Belfast man Michael McDermott aiming to help Iran shock Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo
WHILE much attention will be on Iran manager Carlos Queiroz trying to knock his native Portugal out of the World Cup tonight, Irish eyes may be on one of his assistants.
Belfast native Michael 'Mick' McDermott, who is in his second spell with 'Team Melli', has also worked with Brazil boss Tite and former Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga, but could become much better-known in his own right if Iran shock the European champions in Group B in Saransk this evening.
The 44-year-old, who attended the Boys' Model school in north Belfast, left Northern Ireland as a teenager in the early 90s to attend the University of Rhode Island in the USA on a soccer scholarship, having played for NI at youth level as well as for Cliftonville Strollers and, briefly, Distillery (as they were known then).
His playing career in America involved two spells each with Long Island Rough Riders and Connecticut Wolves and one at Raleigh Capital Express, before he moved into coaching/ management with the Connecticut outfit, adding a Uefa 'A' licence to the US Soccer Federation equivalent to his BSc in Physical Education from URI.
He had spells at Quinnipiac University in Conneticut and Oregon State University before a move to the United Arab Emirates came about in rather strange circumstances. Abu Dhabi club Al Ain were seeking a fitness trainer and approached a jiu-jitsu academy in New York, whose train was a friend of McDermott and recommend the Belfast man. It was at Al Ain that McDermott worked with Tite and Zenga in 2007; indeed in five seasons there he outlasted nine coaches/ managers.
Friendship also played a part in McDermott's link-up with Queiroz. The latter's assistant and goalkeeping coach is a Portuguese-American, Dan Gaspar - who had coached McDermott at Connecticut Wolves.
Gaspar recommended McDermott and he became part of Queiroz's set-up when he took charge of Iran in 2011.
On the club front, McDermott moved to Dubai club Al Nasr, where he again worked with Zenga for a time.
Last year he was appointed assistant, then caretaker boss at Iranian club Esteghlal, before once more linking up with the Iranian national side earlier this year.
McDermott hasn't forgotten his roots, paying tribute in an interview with the 'Soccer Banter' website to several Belfast men who helped him on his way:
"Two men who taught me the value and enjoyment of education were my two secondary school teachers, Andy McMorran and Dennis Russell...
"And Artie McFarland, my youth coach at Cliftonville in Belfast. He was a hard task-master who taught me the value of effort and passed on his passion and honesty – he really gave me a chance to play!"
McDermott was obviously able to recognise managerial talent, saying in that 2011 interview that Tite "had good overall organization and professionalism."
Liam Weeks, who was Al Ain's performance analyst for a time, told 'The National' in Abu Dhabi that McDermott is "quite a funny guy with a great Northern Irish wit about him.
"He's very ambitious. He's constantly reading articles and keeping up to date with the latest research. He does a lot of brainstorming with other world experts in his field."
The man himself admitted that he'd love to work in Europe but he's back on the world stage tonight, aiming to upset Cristiano Ronaldo (the second best player in the world) and company.
A win for Iran, coupled with at least a point for Spain against Morocco, and McDermott's world travels will continue.