Tag: AFC Champions League

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.

Esteghlal out of AFC Champions League !

The never-ending saga of humiliation of Iranian football hit another low when Esteghlal one of the two bipolar clubs of Iran was kicked out of the AFC Champions League competition for the second season in a row after failing to comply with the competition’s regulations and maintaining its professional status.

The club which is owned and managed by the Government of Iran has failed to submit proof of compliance in time plus the failure of the club to settle a dispute with a former Italian coach, Andrea Stramaccioni. In November 2020, The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) ordered Esteghlal to pay 1,350,000 euros to its former coach Andrea Stramaccioni. The Italian coach had a very brief, but eventful, spell at Esteghlal from June to December 2019.

The AFC’s decision to exclude Esteghlal from this season’s AFC Champions League was a bitter pill to swallow not only among its own huge supporters base but also among the rest of the Iranian fans. Many experts believe it is a warning sign for football in general as incompetent management and the derelict hierarchy at the top have become a recipe for a disaster negatively affecting every corner of Iranian football.

 The main culprit of this event is the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the authority which is directly responsible for Esteghlal and Persepolis including the appointment of their chairmen and board members plus, more importantly, the full financial backing.

Regardless of who was and is the CEO of Esteghlal, the club needed money to be able to solve problems including the payment and contractual obligation to staff members, players, and coaches. Promises were also given to Fathollahzadeh, who was recently appointed as the boss of the club and is reported to have accepted this responsibility on the condition of full financial support from the ministry and the clearing of all debts. That is another regrettable aspect of Iran’s football politics, false promises and outright lies which are quite common all across.

The ministry, however, turned its back on Esteghlal, an organization that has no other means of generating revenue in a country where the official broadcaster refuses to pay broadcast rights on national TV. The ambivalence and procrastination by the authorities in solving the problem have caused the fans to be more upset and more vocal with the officials of the Ministry of Sports. This issue has made them take a stand against the culprits in the stands of Azadi stadium where chants against the ministry and the government were repeatedly and frequently heard.

Currently, Esteghlal is coached by Portuguese coach Ricardo Sá Pinto. The two times winner of the older version of the AFC top club competition is still in the title run with a close contest from Sepahan and Persepolis, however, the Portuguese have not been paid for many months and despite his professionalism, at one stage, he like the rest of foreign coaches, will draw the line and calls it a quit. It is a familiar pattern in Iran’s football.

The coaches then file a case with FIFA and almost all such cases end up with the Iranian sides losing and paying hefty fines on top of all the dues for the coaches.

A vicious circle that, unfortunately, has no sign of ending.

Management issues are slowly but surely destroying the very essence of Iran’s football. A pride footballing nation that has achieved everything in Asian football including an unprecedented three consecutive times winning the Asian Cup, qualification to the Olympics (3+1), and winning four Asian Youth titles. That was all before the revolution though

The last time Iran won the Asian Cup was in 1976 (47 years)

The last time Iran won the Asian Youth Cup (U20)  was in 1976 (47 years)

The last time Iran qualified for the Olympics football competition was in 1980 (43 years)

The saving grace remains Team Melli’s excellent record in qualifying for the FIFA World Cup.

Javad Nekounam leaves his post abruptly after Foolad qualifies for the semi Finals!!

The head coach of Foolad Khuzestan and ex-Team Melli player, Javad Nekounam has resigned from his post right after leading his team against the Saudi Arabian side, Al Faisly in the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League western region.

After winning the tight match 1-0 with a goal scored by Sasan Ansari in Al Janoob Stadium in Doha, and advancing to the quarter-finals to meet the defending Champion Al Hilal, whom they play in two days’ time, Nekounam left abruptly in a classic unprofessional behavior that he is by now quite famous for. Contrary to his claims of being a professional football coach who learned his trade from his playing days in La Liga, one of the top and most professional leagues of the world, Nekounam was far from that.

Foolad is the only remaining Iranian club in the competition and qualification to the quarter-finals of the continent’s elite club competition is a unique achievement for the Khuzestani club and is also remarkable since the club is struggling in the domestic league. Foolad’s victory is also helping with the overall points credit for the Iranian clubs and the quota for next year’s competitions. Javad Nekonam’s resignation minutes after the final whistle of the sweet win against The Saudi team, was not only insensitive but also spoilt what was a big day for the Khuzestanis.

Nekonam’s resignation is a big shock for the club. The Foolad management has not accepted his resignation, but Nekounam was not present in the draw for the quarter-final round that pitted Foolad against Al Hilal. It is not known if the resigned coach has left Doha for Tehran either.

However, the question remains what was the reason behind Nekonam’s resignation despite his claim in the pre-match press conference that he is a professional coach? Such unprofessional behavior in the middle of this important tournament is far from ethical or professional.

There has been much talk and rumors about Javad Nekounam replacing Queiroz as the head coach of Team Melli. There are already rumors that his resignation is related to this subject and this rumorer was influenced by some reports in the Spanish media that claims Nekounam is on his way to take over Team Melli.

Foolad Khuzestan refutes the news of Nekounam joining Queiroz staff.

According to the Mehrnews, a quote attributed to Ehsan Usoli, the spokesperson of the Football Federation FFIRI, was published at noon today (Friday), stating that Javad Nekonam is confirmed to join Team Melli as assistant to  Queiroz while maintaining his job in the Foolad Khuzestan Club and Carlos Queiroz’s technical staff.

As expected, this issue led to the reaction of Foolad Khuzestan Club.

Mehr news reporter contacted Hamidreza Gershasabi, CEO of Foolad Club, to follow up on this issue. , Gershasabi denied this claim and  said ”  “Unfortunately, they are always creating rumors about Foolad Club and its head coach.”

” This is pure fabication. There is no such arrangement and nothing has changed since we publicly announced our position on this issue”. In further explanation of this issue, he added: “They were seeking Nekounam’s participation in the national team before, but we refused the release of our coach. The club was against the idea. Foolad has important commitments ahead in the league and the AFC Champions League. We have spent and planned extensively. Even now, under no circumstances do we agree to lose our head coach.

The CEO of Foolad Khuzestan emphasized: “On the other hand, it is news to me that Nekonam will join the national team while keeping his position in Foolad!! I have no idea where this came from.”

Gershasbi  was asked, “Is it possible that the leaders of the football federation consulted with the hierarchy or Leaders of the steel company (owners of the Foolad club)  to recruit Nekonam?” In response, Garshasbi said: I don’t know. They talked to us before hands saying that Queiroz wants Nekonam. Our response was that we needed him too and he is a Foolad Khuzestan Club employee. This was the end of the discussion. “

The CEO continued: “After that discussion, various people created rumors and lies. As Foolad Khuzestan Club, we have not agreed to Nekonam’s release.”

Asked when was the last contact between him and FFIRI in regards to Nekonam? He stated: “We talked last week and we disagreed. In the last conversation we had together, Nekonam told us that he has no interest in joining the national team.

“Is it possible that the Football Federation behind your back, has agreed with Nekonam and you are not informed?”
In response to this question, Gershasbi said: “I would not know. I doubt it. Nekounam said I will not go. He said that I will continue my plans in Foulad. What they claim that Nekounam has joined the national team ans it has been confirmed, is simply not true. Responding to the question that the source of the claim is by Ehsan Usoli, the spokesperson of the Football Federation, Garshasbi noted: “I will deny the news until this moment unless Nekonam took upon himself to act. Let us see what he has done, otherwise, his last agreement with me was that I will not join the national team.”

Once again it is apparent that Football in Iran is toxic where lies, deception, fabrications, and lobbying are so rife. It is very difficult to believe under normal conditions. The leaders lie with impunity, and so do coaches and players and it is all done under the patriotism flag!

FIFA ranking is deceiving , Is Iran really the number one football nation in Asia?

Although Team Melli has been topping the FIFA Ranking in Asia for many months and years, the reality of the football results, performances of other Iranian teams, global reputation, management, and administration chaos tells a completely different story.

A close analysis of the above shows that Iranian football is lagging behind major Asian footballing nations in recent years. According to the FIFA ranking system for the Senior National Football teams, Iran’s team has often been at the top rank of Asian teams in the FIFA rankings in recent years. This ranking cannot be questioned because it has its own criteria and points are awarded for winning in each match, while each match has a factor based on importance and the position/rank of the opponents. So, it is quite scientific and the process v=cannot be faulted in any way. However, by examining various fields and indicators, including the superiority of Iranian football in the competition with important teams in the world at the club and junior levels football and the results obtained In the AFC Asian Cup, World Cup rounds, and Olympics, we find out that Iranian football is by far not the top nation in Asia as we have always been led to believe.

Now the question is why Iranian football has not been able to get results in important Asian competitions for many years. Why has a team that claims to be a contender in Asian football not achieved any important honor in the last 30 years in the club division and in the last 40 years at the national level?


1/ Performance in the World Cup

Performance of Asian teams in the World Cup (teams that advanced to the second round are highlighted in blue)


Teams Korea Rep Japan Saudi Arabia Iran Australia Korea DPR
Played 34 21 16 15 16 7
Won 6 5 3 2 2 1
Drawn 9 5 2 4 4 1
Lost 19 11 11 9 10 5

2/ Performance in the Olympics

46 years have passed since Iran’s last participation in the Olympics, and by the time the Paris Olympics begin, this longing will reach 48 years. For every Olympic qualifier, failures and lackluster results lead to elimination from the early stages of qualifiers. Iran’s Omid national team fails to advance to the Olympics tournament after tournament. The following is the list of Asian Teams that qualified for the Olympics since 1980.



3/ The AFC Asian Cup

The longing for lifting the AFC Asian Cup trophy by Team Melli, which Iran won three times in a row before the revolution, is now 47 years old, and Iran has not won the title since the revolution. by the next edition of the Asian Cup, this longing will last half a century. This is despite the fact that since Iran’s last championship in the Asian Cup, Japan won 4, Saudi Arabia won 3, and Kuwait, Iraq, Australia, and  Qatar have won the title once in Iran’s absence.



4/ Performance in the AFC Champions League

Pas won the Asian Club Cup in the 1992-1993 season. Three decades have passed since then. In this competition, Iranian club teams have never been able to win the championship title in its new format. The Asian Champions League has been held in a new format since 2002.

The number of championships of Asian teams since the start of the Champions League:

South Korea: 6 championships

Japan: 4 championships

Saudi Arabia: 4 championships

Australia: 1 championship

Iran: Zero


5/ The number of legionnaires in the 5 prestigious leagues of the world



Bundesliga 9 4 4 1 0
English Premier League: 2 2 1 1 0
La Liga 1 1 2 0 0
Serie A 2 0 0 0 0
14 7 7 2 0



Humiliations and shame.

Controversy, disciplinary actions, sanctions are never very far from Iranian football scenes although thankfully in the past few years, marked improvements have been noticed with less negative news and punitive actions taken against the Iranians.

Iran football at its roots is a bipartisan system based on two teams Persepolis and Esteghlal. Although the accurate figure is impossible to determine, an estimate of more than 90% of the fans in Iran supports one of the two Tehrani teams, has been mentioned. Persepolis probably has more fans than the population of many Asian countries members of AFC .

The whole system is also geared towards the welfare of the two iconic clubs. From journalists, the media, Radio & TV all the way to the Majlis. Sometimes the affairs of the two clubs are topics of discussion in the assembly as if there are no other more pertinent problems to discuss.

The Aura that has been created by the two clubs has also led to corruption, lobbying, and nepotism in a big way thus affecting the livelihood of the many and causing pain and distress to others.  If we have failed to mention it, the owners of the two clubs are none other than the government of the Islamic republic!

Imagine that Manchester City and Manchester United are owned by the same company. To start with, that is a huge conflict of interest, against the spirit of clean competition and something that is not acceptable anywhere in the civilized world. The question that many would ask though, is what is the government doing running a football club or two, in this case?

In Iran’s case, it is simple. Political propaganda and ensuring the big brother keep an eye on the massive force of the youth. Governments do not own and run football clubs, there are much more important businesses to take care of, however, success, winning trophies, and titles would have alleviated the peculiar structure and ownership of the clubs by a long shot. The reality is otherwise as this regime has failed miserably in running the two football teams. Not only they have not won any Champions League titles, but they are also both on the brink of bankruptcy and being sued for millions of dollars in courts for breaches of contracts with their staff, suppliers, and partners.

For over 40 years, not a single Iranian club has won the coveted continental trophy under the Islamic Republic’s control. That is an incredible sign of failure for a proud nation.

If that is not bad enough, the humiliation of both Persepolis and Esteghlal being kicked out of the Asian Champions League due to a countless number of irregularities tops every shame that Iran’s football has been subjected to in the last four decades. This one is the absolute disaster that touches the feeling and the pride of the people and the country. And there is one and one culprit only. The regime of the Islamic Republic has been promising since Khatemi’s days to hand over the clubs to private sectors and failed to do so for decades.

This is the result….the anger and disgust felt by Iranians and Iran football supporters outside the country touch beyond sport, it is an insult that could be quite costly for the regime.

The honorable thing to do for the Islamic Republic is to admit that it is not geared for running football teams and being engaged in their quarrels, hand over the teams to the public and refrain from using these clubs as propaganda tools.

We have been critical of AFC on many occasions, but this time the Asian Football Confederation has done Iran’s football a favor that only the intelligent and the more mature audience would appreciate.

Former finalists Persepolis kicked out of Asian Champions League

Tehran-based Persepolis, who lost in both the 2018 and 2020 finals of Asia’s elite club competition, are one of three Iranian clubs to have had their licenses revoked.

Esteghlal, winners of the 1970 and 1991 Asian Club Championship — the forerunner to the Asian Champions League — and Gol Gohar Sirjan are the others.

“The ECB (Entry Control Body) determined that the three clubs had not satisfied all of the mandatory criteria … and, accordingly, should not have been granted licences to participate in the AFC Champions League 2022,” the AFC said.

Esteghlal, who were also kicked out of the 2007 edition for failing to submit their players’ list on time, had been due to feature in the qualifying rounds after a third-place finish in the Iranian league.

Gol Gohar Sirjan did not qualify for the competition but the sanction means they cannot be nominated as a replacement for either of the excluded teams.

Foolad have already secured their spot in the group phase after winning last season’s Hazfi Cup, Iran’s primary domestic knockout competition, while league runners-up Sepahan will play in the qualifiers.

The draw for the 2022 Asian Champions League will take place on Jan. 17.

Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal are the defending champions after they defeated Pohang Steelers from South Korea in the final in November.



Esteghlal, Persepolis and Gol Gohar are out of the AFC Champions League.

The professional status of three Iranian clubs Esteghlal, Persepolis, and Gol Gohar Sirjan was referred to the AFC Disciplinary and Ethics Committee.

The Asian Football Confederation, after 20 inciting days for Iranian teams, finally decided to revoke the professional licenses of Esteghlal, Persepolis, and Gol Gohar Sirjan. As a result, these three teams, due to not obtaining a professional-grade A are prohibited from participation in Asian Club competitions. All three teams have already qualified for the AFC premier club competition, the AFC Champions League but the decision to revoke their professional licenses means they are banned from playing the next season’s edition.

The case of these three Iranian teams was also referred to the AFC Disciplinary and Ethics Committee by the decision of this confederation, so that, if it so chooses, further actions regarding the issuance of professional licenses of these three teams in Iran can be made.

It was crystal clear that under the present rules and regulations of the AFC professional clubs’ requirements, the most popular teams in Iran and arguably in the whole of Asia, will not make the grade. Both Persepolis and Esteghlal are owned, controlled, and managed by the government, in itself a major drawback in maintaining their license as a professional club. There are loads of other reasons, including failure to regulate and control their finances, mounting debts, failure to produce balance sheets, legal cases against the clubs in FIFA committees and CAS plus failure to respect contracts of foreign players with non-payment and illegal reduction of wages being the main points.

The fact that both Persepolis and Esteghlal managed to operate for years in such shambolic status is a miracle, however, their luck has run out and Iran as a proud footballing nation has received a humiliation which we might not have heard the end of it yet.

Mehdi Ghaedi chased by Qatar Star League clubs

Team Melli and Esteghlal striker Mahdi Ghaedi is close to playing in the Qatar Star League QSL according to the daily Al Raye of Doha. The newspaper cites several foreign sources who have been secretly negotiating with the player and agent to play in Qatar next season. The reports claim that several serious offers have been put forward to the Iranian star from several Qatari clubs, headed by Al Sadd and Al Duhail, to recruit the services of the player who starred with his team in the group stage in the AFC Champions League which helped Esteghlal to qualify for the next round of the AFC Champions League.

The 22-year Ghayedi is still under contract with Esteghlal and the club is insisting on keeping him for the next rounds of the AFC Champions League hoping to make it all the way to the finals. Esteghlal was the most potent attacking team of the group stages and Ghaeydi was amongst the top 5 stars of the competition according to the AFC website.

Transfermarket.com which tracks players’ value in the market quite a figure of 1.6 million Euro for the player from Bushehr. However, Ghaydi’s true value is much higher than what transfermarket is quoting, perhaps two to three times that.

Isa Al Kasir suspended for six months!

Kuala Lumpur: The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Disciplinary and Ethics Committee has banned Isa Alkasir, of Persepolis FC, from taking part in any kind of football-related activity for six months for violating Article 58.1 of the AFC Disciplinary and Ethics Code (2019 Edition). The ban will take effect immediately.

The player, who was also fined USD10,000, was found to have used a discriminatory gesture during the AFC Champions League (West) game against Pakhtakor on September 30, 2020, in Doha, Qatar.

Article 58.1 states that anyone who offends the dignity of a person or group of persons through contemptuous, discriminatory, or denigratory words or actions concerning race, skin color, gender, disability, language, age, physical appearance, religion, political opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation, or ethnic, national, or social origin has committed an offense.

Al Kasir’s goal celebration is normally quite eccentric and has led to several awards of yellow cards, the last one was in the AFC Champions League matches when he took off his jersey after scoring, a punishable offense. In the offense that led to his ban, Al Kasir seemed to stretch both his eyes with his hands. Not clear what kind of a weird celebration was that or what or who Al Kasir was mocking. However, a Bahraini National Team player had a similar ban by FIFA after making a similar gesture to Al Kasir. Bahrain was playing Hong Kong away and the Bahrain player seemed to be mocking the Chinese race which is certainly a violation and a racist gesture. In Al Kasir’s case, there was no Chinese involved unless there is a hidden motive that only the AFC and Al Kasir understand.

Al Kasir not only misses the crucial semi-final of the AFC Champions League but also is deprived of a chance to play for Team Melli for the next six months. He was a strong candidate for selection in the Dragan Skocic list before his stupidity and petulant act.  Al Kasir ( his proper name is Isa Al Katheer, rather than the Iranian pronunciation) is a player from Khuzestan of Arab origin.