216 days – that’s how long the Iraq national football team have been without a permanent head coach. But finally, after a managerial search lasting more than seven months, the Iraq Football Association look to have found their man in 49 year-old Jesús Casas García, who has agreed to take over the Lions of Mesopotamia.
The Spaniard has agreed to the financial terms of the contract and to the requirement to be based in Baghdad, but the final details regarding contract length and termination clauses are to be finalised. The Iraq Football Association’s intention is to sign Casas to a four-year deal, with Casas arriving in Baghdad to sign the contract later this week. He will attend the national team’s training sessions in the capital led by interim coach Radhi Shenaishil, before returning to Spain where he will be watching from the stands as Shenaishil’s side take on Mexico and Ecuador respectively. Casas is set to take charge of the Lions for the first time for the friendlies with Costa Rica and Venezuela on 17 and 21 November.
Born in Madrid in 1973, Casas first entered the world of coaching at just 29 years old when he took charge of Cádiz CF’s youth team. He was soon promoted to the position of Cádiz CF sports coordinator, a position he held alongside his role as assistant manager of the club’s B team and later as head coach of local side Balón de Cádiz.
In 2008, Casas became head coach of Cádiz’s B side, before moving on to work as a match analyst at fellow Spanish side SD Eibar. Casas found the role to his liking, and took up the same position working for FC Barcelona’s B team in 2010. Casas continued to move up the ranks at the Catalan giants, becoming a scout for the club in 2011 and then spending three years from 2014 to 2017 as FC Barcelona’s match analyst, helping the club to two La Liga titles and the UEFA Champions League trophy.
Casas returned to Cádiz CF and spent six months as the director of the club’s youth department, before a new opportunity came his way in January 2018. For the first time in his career, Casas moved abroad to become Javi Gracia’s assistant manager at English Premier League side Watford. Finally, Casas took up his latest role in the summer of 2018, becoming the assistant manager of the Spanish national team, working as a number two for Luis Enrique and Roberto Moreno before departing in February 2022.
Jesus Casas, Assistant Head Coach of Spain poses during the official UEFA Euro 2020 media access day at Ciudad del Futbol on June 03, 2021 in Las Rozas de Madrid, Spain. Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images
So, how did the IFA eventually land on Jesús Casas? He first became an option in August, when the IFA met with the Spanish association Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional to discuss methods of cooperation ahead of the launch of the new Iraqi Pro League. As part of this meeting, the IFA asked for recommendations on Spanish coaches who could take charge of the Iraq national team, and Jesús Casas was nominated.
Casas has spent most of his career as a number two, and has been looking to make the step up in his career to becoming a head coach. As Cádiz-based journalist Jose Mari confirmed to Soccer Iraq, Casas received an offer from Iraq around this time, as well as also receiving an offer from Spanish club CD Badajoz and being the subject of interest from Deportivo de La Coruña after they had sacked Borja Jiménez. Furthermore, another unnamed national team in the region were also previously interested in recruiting Casas as part of their coaching staff.
Casas’ initial response to the Iraq offer was a ‘no’, seemingly preferring to remain in Spain and potentially having reservations about being based in Baghdad due to the political instability surrounding the nation in recent months. However, the IFA’s offer remained on the table throughout the autumn months as Radhi Shenaishil temporarily took charge of the national team. Casas continued to study the options he had on his table, and the Spaniard eventually decided to take the challenge of managing the Lions of Mesopotamia.
Iraqi players celebrate with their coach Abdul-Ghani Shahad during the 2022 Qatar World Cup Asian Qualifiers football match between Iraq and United Arab Emirates, at the King Fahd International… Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images
The IFA’s managerial search was a prolonged seven-month process full of twists and turns. Here, we take a look in detail at the month-by-month process that has dominated the Iraqi football media scene in 2022.
After Željko Petrović was sacked, the IFA gave the job to Iraqi coach Abdul-Ghani Shahad (pictured above) on an interim basis, with his fate depending on the results he achieved against the UAE and Syria. Under Shahad’s leadership, Iraq defeated UAE to earn their first victory in the final qualifying round, but after a 1-1 draw with Syria, Iraq were eliminated from the qualifiers. The IFA decided against appointing Shahad on a permanent basis as he returned to coach Naft Al-Wasat in the Iraqi Premier League.
Two weeks after Iraq’s elimination from the qualifiers, the IFA began deliberating on the process of hiring a new manager. They decided that the manager should be a foreigner of age 50-55 years old, ideally with experience in Arab football. Crucially, the IFA required that the new coach be willing to come to Baghdad to follow the local league matches. The goal was for the new manager to take Iraq to the 2026 World Cup.
In May, the IFA’s President Adnan Dirjal announced that the IFA would settle on two or three coaches from Europe and Latin America to begin negotiations with, and that the new head coach would be named by the end of that month. Members of the Iraq FA informed the media of the names that were being considered for the job, including Stephen Constantine (England), Juan Ramón López Caro (Spain), Tom Saintfiet (Belgium), Dan Petrescu (Romania), José Peseiro (Portugal) and Goran Tufegdžić (Serbia). However, May came to an end without any further updates from the IFA.
Iraqi Minister of Youth and Sports Adnan Dirjal is pictured in Baghdad after he won the presidency of the Iraqi Football Association on September 14, 2021 following elections that took place today to… Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images
A number of new names were added to the list of potential coaches by the IFA, including Hernán Darío Gómez (Colombia), José Morais (Portugal), Juan Antonio Pizzi (Spain), Juan Carlos Garrido (Spain) and Sven-Göran Eriksson (Sweden). Also, Djamel Belmadi (Algeria) and José Peseiro were ruled out of the running for the role due to other job commitments, while Roberto Moreno (Spain) was ruled out after refusing to live in Iraq. Towards the end of June, the IFA announced that they would wait all the way until August to appoint the new manager, as the national team did not have any games until September.
IFA second vice-president Younis Mahmoud dropped a bombshell in July when he stated that the IFA had turned their attention towards appointing an Iraqi coach rather than a foreign manager due to a lack of funds. Suddenly, after months of building up for a foreign coach, the new manager was set to be one of Radhi Shenaishil, Hakeem Shaker, Basim Qasim and Ayoub Odisho – all four of whom had already coached the national team before. Radhi Shenaishil went on to be appointed as manager of the Iraq Olympic team at the end of the month.
Iraq’s coach Radhi Shenaishil gestures during during the World Cup 2018 qualification football match against Australia at NIB stadium in Perth on September 1, 2016. IMAGE Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images
A new month, a new twist in the story of Iraq’s managerial search. The IFA had received $2 million funding from the government to spend on a new coach, and announced that they had narrowed down their list of options to three European coaches who they would begin negotiations with by the following week. It was then revealed that the new coach would either be Spanish or Belgian, after the IFA had been encouraged by their meetings with Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional from Spain and with technical advisor Kris Van Der Haegen from Belgium. However, Adnan Dirjal then stated that the appointment of the new coach would be postponed because of political instability, and that Olympic team manager Radhi Shenaishil would temporarily take charge of the national team. On the last day of the month, IFA spokesman Ahmed Al-Musawi announced that negotiations had resumed with a Spanish coach who would likely take charge of Iraq in time for the friendly with Mexico on 9 November.
The appointment of the new coach was postponed yet again in October as Younis Mahmoud stated that Radhi Shenaishil’s interim spell in charge of the national team would continue throughout Iraq’s November friendlies with Mexico and Ecuador. Finally, after months of back and forth, the IFA was able to reach an agreement with Jesús Casas to become the national team’s new head coach.