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An Italian Football Manager’s Iranian Saga

December 13, 2019
Payam Younesipour
5 min read
Andrea Stramaccioni has resigned as Esteghlal FC's manager over financial irregularities and unpaid salary
Andrea Stramaccioni has resigned as Esteghlal FC's manager over financial irregularities and unpaid salary
Stramaccioni had led Esteghlal to a dramatic winning streak. His departure angered the fans and even sparked protests
Stramaccioni had led Esteghlal to a dramatic winning streak. His departure angered the fans and even sparked protests
Stramaccioni's wife, Dalila, has also spoken of her fears in Iran on her Instagram account
Stramaccioni's wife, Dalila, has also spoken of her fears in Iran on her Instagram account

IranWire's exclusive interview with Andrea Stramaccioni reveals that the outgoing Esteghlal manager has not been properly paid for his work and rejects claims to the contrary by Iranian football officials.

On Sunday, December 8, the official Iranian news agency, IRNA, published a statement by Andrea Stramaccioni, the Italian manager of Tehran’s Esteghlal football club, announcing that he and his assistants had unilaterally terminated their contracts with the club.

Stramaccioni resigned immediately after Esteghlal regained its place at the top of the football chart. In a letter sent to the International Football Federation (FIFA) on December 6, through his lawyer, Stramaccioni announced that he was terminating his contract because of “Esteghlal FC’s failure to observe its financial obligations” which had led to the freezing of his Italian bank account.

The manager told a Persian-language TV network outside Iran that he had been summoned to Italy by Italian police to explain “suspicious deposits” into his account from questionable origins.

In recent months, with the intensification of banking sanctions against Iran and Iran’s unwillingness to join the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – an intergovernmental organization that promotes policies and standards to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and other threats to the global financial system – it has been almost impossible to transfer money outside Iran, and even from inside Iran to bank accounts in foreign countries.

In an interview with Iranian state TV, Amir Hossein Fathi, the Esteghlal CEO who left the club after Stramaccioni resignation, confirmed that the head coach’s salary had been sent to his Italian bank account through a money changer. It was these deposits  that led to the blocking of Stramaccioni’s account in Italy.

Stramaccioni’s departure was inconceivable to the fans of Iran’s second-most popular football team. After five seasons of disappointment in Iran’s Pro League competitions and early eliminations in the Asian Championship League games, they were hoping that this smartly-dressed Italian would again paint Iranian skies blue, the same as the color as the Esteghlal jersey.

Esteghlal, with Stramaccioni as its manager, started the season with failure. It was defeated in the biggest derby in the Middle East by its old rival, Persepolis FC. But Esteghlal soon dusted itself off; and suddenly, it turned into the most awe-inspiring football team in Iran, a team that scored more than 16 goals in just four games, returning to the top of the chart after five long years in the wilderness.

Thousands of Esteghlal fans gathered outside the club – furious at the loss of Stramaccioni and his winning streak – and demanded the resignation of its directors. Around 100 of them broke through the doors to the building, causing a response from riot police.

Maziar Nazemi, Director-General of the Sport Ministry’s Public Relations, claimed that Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi and the Italian ambassador to Iran, Giuseppe Perrone, had begun negotiations on a legal means to transfer the payments due to Stramaccioni and his staff. Nazemi later claimed on Twitter that Stramaccioni would return to Iran on Friday, 13 December.

IranWire asked Stramaccioni if this claim was accurate.

“In a word, no!” he told IranWire. “The situation is as it was. To be honest with you, I can say that I have been constantly monitoring the situation through my lawyers and nothing between us has been progressing in the right way. Nothing has changed. Nothing is like what they say it is. Things were supposed to progress honestly and justly but this is not what has been happening.”

Ali Fathollah Zadeh, a previous Esteghlal CEO who was in post before Amir Hossein Fathi, is meanwhile on the verge of returning to his old job because of the crisis.

“If today I become the CEO, there is a 90 percent chance that I would get Stramaccioni back,” boasted Fathollah Zad in a TV interview. He went even further and claimed that he would not need the government’s help to bring Stramaccioni back, ignoring the fact that, as of now, the Iranian foreign minister has not yet succeeded in transferring Stramaccioni his dues.

IranWire asked Stramaccioni if Zad, for his part, had in fact spoken to him. He seemed surprised by the question.

“The first and the last time that I met him was during the memorial for the father of Behzad [Gholampour, the retired Iranian goalkeeper],” he said, which was some time ago. “Since then we have not met. I have not talked to him. I have not met him, not even through the phone.”

Stramaccioni not only refuted the various statements made about his discussions with Iranian football officials – he also reacted angrily to some of the claims. When asked whether the actual reason he left Esteghlal was in pique over the salary paid to Marc Wilmots, manager of Iran’s national team, Stramaccioni said no. “But let my enemies say what they want,” he added. “I cannot shut everybody’s mouth.”

And what of claims from a member of Esteghlal’s board, who told the media that Stramaccioni wants a new one-year contract with the club?

“If Esteghlal proves that it honors its commitments, I am not going to say anything,” he answered. “But first they must prove that they are committed to professional ethics. If right now, right this minute, you ask my opinion, I must say that nothing is rational, nothing is logical.”

Nazemi, the sports ministry official, has also claimed that Stramaccioni’s overdue payments have been deposited into his Italian account. “No, not true,” Stramaccioni said. “This is not the case. Period.”

Banking problems and suspicions of money laundering were not the only problems Stramaccioni faced in Iran. Yousef Daneshiar, a translator and interpreter, claimed that Dalila Stramaccioni, the head coach’s wife, wants to return to Italy because she is afraid of two things: an “influenza epidemic in Iran” and “a repeat of the internet shutdown.” On her Instagram page, Dalila has written about her week without internet access in Iran.

Stramaccioni, for his part, has often said that Dalila has been the loveliest thing that has happened to him in his life.


Related Coverage:

Iran's Football Manager May Quit After Six Months — Without Pay, 6 November 2019

The Man Behind Corruption and Embezzlement in Iranian Sports, October 16, 2019

Football Legend Ali Daei Quits and Reveals Secrets, May 5, 2019

Corruption, Lies, and Iran's Football Federation, February 21, 2019

IranWire Exclusive: Iranian Football’s Million-Dollar Swindle, February 6, 2019

The Mystery of FIFA’s Missing Cash for Iran, July 17, 2018

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