The Best of the Rest (of the World): Iran

Iran, or as it is officially known, the Islamic Republic of Iran is situated in the Middle East and had received a lot of poor press recently for its involvement in wars and other negative situations. However, today we are going to celebrate the more positive side of Iran and take a look at its footballing accomplishments and the effect it has had on the English game. Iran is one of the highest ranked teams we’ve had this series so far, as they sit at a respectable 25th position in the FIFA rankings. Depressingly, this is just ten spots behind England. They won the Asian Cup three times in a row between 1968 and 1976 but have yet to win it since. They have never made it out of the group stages in a World Cup but at the moment, are one of the few teams who are already qualified to take part in the 2018 tournament. They have one of the coolest kits around as both their home and away outfits feature a leopard proudly on the front, so they are worth following just for that. At the time of writing only three players have made it to the Premier League.

Karim Bagheri (Charlton Athletic 2000-01)

Karim Bagheri is a true legend of Iranian football. A gifted, two-footed midfielder, Bagheri had an impact on basically every game he played in. He scored 50 times for his country in just 87 games, so he possessed a conversion rate that many of the best players in the world would be proud of. In June 1997, he scored seven (yes…7) times during a World Cup Qualifier. This feat was recognised as they most amount of goals ever scored in a World Cup affiliated game until 2001. He retired from international football that same year but returned in 2008 to pick up seven more caps.

In domestic football, he played over half his career for Persepolis FC in the Persian Gulf Pro League, where he is now the assistant manager. After spending four years in Germany with Arminia Bielefeld, he moved to Charlton Athletic in 2000 for a fee of £400k. He bought primarily as cover and couldn’t force his way into the first team. In the end, he played just 15 minutes, in a match against Ipswich Town, before he left for Qatar in the hunt for more playing time, and probably money. This just goes to show how much of a step it is from being a legend in your home country, to being a player for an average team in the Premier League.

Andranik Teymourian (Bolton Wanderers 2006-08, Fulham 2008-09)

More lovingly known as Ando, Andranik Teymourian is the sixth most capped Iranian in history, putting him one spot above Bagheri. Ando has played for his country 101 times and the defensive midfielder has picked up nine goals in the process. He was hailed as a national hero in 2006 for his incredible show of passion following Iran’s departure from the World Cup in Germany. A picture of him sobbing on the floor surrounded by trainers became synonymous with his country’s 2006 WC campaign. Ando identifies as a Christian, a religion that is very rarely associated with the country and in 2014 he became the first person of his faith to lead Iran.

In 2006 his domestic career took him to Bolton Wanderers, with whom he signed for an undisclosed fee. Despite only making 20 appearances for the northern club, most of which were from the bench, he became a fan favourite for his impressive performances on the pitch. His only two league goals for the club came in a 3-1 away win over Wigan Athletic in one of the few matches in which he didn’t feature as a ‘super-sub’. From there he moved to Fulham which was ultimately a very poor decision for his career. Making just one appearance against Arsenal, and picking up a booking for his troubles, he was later sent to Barnsley on loan. Despite expressing his desire to remain at Fulham he was released. Issues with work permits didn’t allow him to re-join an English club so he was forced to link up with Tractor Sazi FC. Surprisingly, this is a club in Iran, not in the south-west of England.

Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham 2012-14)

The third and final player on our list has been voted as Iran’s best ever left-midfielder. Ashkan Dejagah has made over 40 appearances for his country, since his debut in 2012. He moved to Germany when he was just one-year-old and has spent most of his domestic playing career there. He has played with both Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg, and even won the Bundesliga with the latter in 2009. However, it was announced that he would not be returning to Wolfsburg for the current season which has left him as a free agent. After moving to Fulham in 2012 for around about £2million he became an instrumental part of their top-flight squad and was even voted as the fan’s player of the season for the 2013/14 campaign.