TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran on Sunday named its former star player Ali Daei as the new coach of the national football team, in a shock move that ended a months-long search for a trainer of one for Asia's heavyweight sides.
Daei, the leading international scorer in football history, had been mooted last month as an outside choice to lead the Team Melli to the 2010 World Cup but the focus had been on the candidacy of Iranian-American Afshin Qotbi.
"After examining Ali Daei's plans, he was officially named as head coach of the national team," ISNA quoted the Iranian football federation's head Ali Kafashian as saying.
"Initial talks were held with Ali Daei over the past days and today we held a meeting with him where he submitted his plans to the federation," he added.
Iran has conducted a months-long search for a new football coach in a saga that has seen a dozen top foreign names mooted, two trainers seemingly appointed before being rejected and a plethora of contradictory statements.
The national side made a disastrous start to their World Cup campaign last month by only drawing with minnows Syria in a performance that betrayed the effects of the lack of a coach.
Daei will now be charged with preparing the team for Iran's next qualifier is against Kuwait on March 26 in Kuwait City.
"He will bring all his plans for the national team and do his best at the level of head coach, like the he did when he was one of the world's best players," Kafashian told state television.
"Tomorrow he starts his work as head coach and he has full authority. His chief plan is to take the team for the World Cup."
Daei, whose career included spells at Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin, was unquestionably Iran's most famous footballer ever and still holds the record as the top goal-scorer in international football.
He only retired fully from playing last year and until now has coached Tehran club side Saipa.
Iranian football fans are likely to be excited about the elevation of their greatest star to lead the national team although doubts have been expressed over his experience as a relative novice.
Despite boasting stars like Bolton Wanderers midfielder Andranik Teymourian and Eintracht Frankfurt winger Mehdi Mahdavikia, the national side has underperformed after being dumped out of the 2006 World Cup in the first round.
Spanish trainer Javier Clemente had been on the verge of agreeing terms with Iran but talks collapsed when he refused to live full time in the country, leaving officials to search for a home grown coach.
Iran appeared close to agreeing terms with Qotbi at the weekend but no final deal was agreed amid renewed controversy over the government's role in the game.
Press reports suggested Qotbi's appointment had being blocked by a wrangle between the football federation and the governmental Physical Education Organisation, which was lukewarm about his candidacy.
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