Failure of Persepolis typifies poor standards in Iran

The Iranian league champions Persepolis, failed to qualify to the last 8 /round of 16 of the AFC Asian Champions League 2023/24 after a home defeat to Al-Duhail of Qatar by a score of 2-1. Stopping its point tally at 8, was not good enough to be amongst the best 3 second placed teams of the Weste Asia zone of the Champions League.

Sepahan, however, qualified despite the defeat in the final round against Ittihad to be the only Iranian team in the round of 16 joining all 4 Saudi teams, 2 from Uzbekistan, and 1 from UAE. Persepolis under Yahya Golmohammadi and Nassaji Mazendran under Mehdi Rahmati, Iran’s two other representatives, did not make it.

This qualification pretty much sums up the poor and controversial local league of Iran. Lifeless and boring matches filled with time-wasting, faking injuries, and the customary players protest against referees, poor officiating, lousy coaching typically from the Iranian coaches who excel in creative excuses for their low standards, and chaotic management at the club level all cumulated to producing a poor league that is nowhere near the standards displayed by other Persian Gulf clubs. The only positive of Iran’s league is the passionate fans who still flock to the stadiums to watch their beloved teams.

Football has deteriorated in standard for many years in Iran. It is not a shock that only one team out of three qualified and even then, not at the top of the group but by being one of the best second-placed teams. This poor league standard will surely be reflected in Team Melli which is currently the oldest team in Asia, perhaps even the world, with the same names bar slight changes, being recalled to the Team time and time again. There is a lack of exciting players, even the new players called to Team Melli are near their thirties!

No single reason can be pinpointed for this downfall with opinions differing on which factors are the worst. In our view, the prime and the most vital reason for Iran’s football decline is the worsening standard of management as more and more ex-generals of Sepah, Pasdaran, and other military establishments are rewarded on their retirement and loyalty to the regime by being appointed to run football clubs and federations. On the other side, those in the know and capable of doing the job are sidelined or neglected.

There is another element that is seldom mentioned in the media and that is corruption. It has reached an alarming and dangerous levels. It is a pandemic that the mainstream Iranian-controlled media is actively and purposely trying to disguise and cover-up.

Due to political and economic reasons, the Iranian coaches are unable to learn from the best in the world. They do not attend international seminars or workshops. There is no strategy to train the trainers by the FFIRI or the clubs. The coaches are self-taught, lacking many basic skills of modern football coaching that prepares the fundamental of a good coach. Many have a terrible attitude as well, which makes it even worse coaching a club and setting bad examples for the players. Only a very few like Hashemian and Mahdavikia have been trained professionally to be coaches, however, none of them are active in Iran’s football as we speak.

In Team Melli right now, the coaching staff are mostly selected based on nepotism rather than competency, knowledge, and skills. This is also repeated at most club’s levels, except for Sepahan and Tractor. It is a no-brainer to pick the best coach in Iran’s domestic league and he is not Iranian. The Portuguese. Jose Morais has an impressive CV, and skills, in addition to excellent attitude, and competency to lead Sepahan into the round of 16 of the AFC Asian Championship. Perhaps the other Iranian coaches should learn from him, notably how he gives playing time to young and talented players to perform at the highest levels of competitions, something Iranian coaches barely dare to do.