Ali Daei, the former footballer and now a football manager and businessman, was in the news last week thanks to new claims from Ahmad Sa'adatmand, the former CEO of Iran’s Esteghlal football club, on his Instagram page on November 4, 2020.
Sa'adatmand had claimed that Esteghlal managers had negotiated with Ali Daei last month to join Esteghlal's coaching bench and that he had given the green light.
But in response to this claim, Daei responded on his own Instagram that: "With respect to the esteemed fans of Esteghlal Club, no one has spoken to me about coaching Esteghlal, and I have never given a positive answer. Unfortunately, some people start storytelling when their time expires."
Daei has not coached any team since May 2019, when he was removed from the post of head coach of Saipa. He has had offers but rejected some, and some were rejected by club owners before contracts could be signed.
Ali Daei was fired from the post of head coach of Saipa when, in keeping with his normal approach, he took a stand against the management of the club. This time, however, the man in front of him was neither Commander Mohammad Royanian, to be afraid of pressure from fans, nor Habib Kashani, to be intimidated by the leaders of the club. This time an Iranian agent implicated in the death of the Iranian politician and Kurdish nationalist leader, Abdol Rahman Ghassemlou, faced him: Amir Mansour Bozorgian Asl, nicknamed Sardar "Ghafour Darjezi".
In other words: the same person who assassinated Ghassemlou in Vienna, Austria, had dealt with Ali Daei in 2018.
Daei had said about the club's general manager, Sardar Ghafoor Darjezi, that: "Mr. Mustafa Modaber does not exist for me; I do not know any real person by that name. As far as I remember, I have known a person named 'Sardar Ghafoor' ever since he was the head of security in [Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting]. It was interesting that in the program ’90,' he introduced himself as Modaber. When I heard him speak, the tone of his voice was familiar to me and I saw that this is the same Sardar Ghafoor, and that he was from Ardabil. How did he become Mustafa Modbar? I wish someone from the registration office was here to tell me how someone could change both his first name and surname?"
Ali Daei was fired from Saipa Club one day after this speech, and no club has since instructed him to lead their team.
One thing to know about Ali Daei is that he has not been away from football since 2006, when he started as Saipa’s coach, his first coaching role, the job he lost in 2019 because of the interview about Sardar Ghafoor Darjezi. Daei also coached Iranian national football team, Persepolis, Rah-e Ahan, again Persepolis, Saba, Naft-e Tehran and Saipa again, from 2006 to May 2017.
A life mixed with pride
There is no doubt about Ali Daei's popularity – in part for his many charitable and philanthropic efforts. The general public knows about some of his humanitarian works while others Daei has kept more private. He said in a 2008 interview with Iran-e Varzeshi newspaper that his father’s advice had moved him to avoid the spotlight for some of his efforts.
For instance: Daei was summoned to the cyber-security Special Operations Center in October 2018 for collecting public donations for the earthquake-stricken people of Kermanshah.
Daei nevertheless looks at life with pride and ambition. Much of this pride is quite natural. The honors he achieved for Iranian football outstrip the successes of others and Iranian football may not see his kind for many years. He is the best scorer in the history of national football, with titles such as the Asian player of the year, best scores in the Champions League, the first Iranian of Bayern Munich club, the best scorer in the history of the Asian Cup, the second-highest scorer in the history of World Cup qualifiers, the best Iranian scorer in the Asian Cup, UNICEF Permanent Ambassador to Iran and holder of the Badge of Courage from the government of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. This list is not exhaustive but it is enough to boast.
Daei had to assert his own pride and prestige because he lived in a country where he was refused even a farewell match at his retirements.
Is Daei another victim of politics?
Imagine that it is October 3, 2005, and Franz Beckenbauer, the irreplaceable German football legend and chairman of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee, has come to the Azadi Hotel in Tehran to officially invite Iran to play in the World Cup.
Beckenbauer's speech begins: "The great weakness of the German delegation in Iran is that it does not speak Persian. We should have taken a Persian language course to talk to you more easily in today's gathering. Unfortunately, there was no time for this. We are not as smart as Ali Daei. When Ali Daei came to Germany, he learned German in the shortest possible time. Ali! How many years has it been since you have not visited Germany? We have rebuilt our stadiums with new and better facilities. I have no doubt that Iran will not have a better ambassador to Germany than you. You were definitely one of our top hundred players at Bayern Munich. You can even be Germany's ambassador to Iranian football."
Ardeshir Laroudi, journalist and author of sports reports in Iran, described Beckenbauer's words in a note in the newspaper Jahan-e Football as follows: "Beckenbauer spoke shrewdly and with foresight. He thinks that Ali Daei is one of the future senior managers of world football, based on his background, scientific literacy, and the languages he has learned."
But Ali did not want to go that route – he could have but he did not want to get involved in world football management. Daei said in 2008: "I am not a person behind the desk. For me, football was either on the field [as a player] or on the field as a coach. I cannot pass on what I have learned and what I have gained to anyone else from behind a desk."
That's why he started living as a coach in football – which was mixed with politics.
Ali Daei was fired from the post of national team coach in September 2009, after the defeat of the Iranian national team against Saudi Arabia. He claimed in the sports television program "90" in 2014 that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then president of Iran, had ordered his dismissal. In 2019, Ebrahim Sadeghi, then a player on the Iranian national team, said: "Ali Daei was fired because he did not let Mr. Ahmadinejad into the locker room of the national team during half-time."
If we add the dismissal from Saipa and his sojourn away from two seasons of coaching in Iranian football, Ali Daei has been a victim of politics twice. But has it always been so?
Daei’s balancing act
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has always loved football. He even introduced himself as a "football player" in his Twitter biography. Playing with former Bolivian President Evo Morales in Tehran and his permanent presence in the national team camps are signs of his constant interest in football.
Ahmadinejad was the first and, to this day, the last person who wanted to put Ali Daei at the head of the Physical Education Organization. Daei, however, refused. But the order for Daei to act as the head coach of the national team came directly from the Office of the President. His dismissal came from there as well.
Ali Daei also has relations with the Iranian political community, especially the reformist spectrum. Although he walks cautiously in the world of politics, he has not been indifferent in supporting people like Mohammad Khatami or the reformist Seyed Hassan Khomeini. Perhaps this is the reason why regime theorists such as Ali Akbar Raifipour also attacks him.
Getting caught up in the world of Iranian politics and football and insisting on remaining as a football coach in Tehran clubs has taken Ali Daei away from what Franz Beckenbauer once imagined.
Due to his personal businesses, Ali Daei is not willing to accept coaching in provincial clubs. Last year, he stopped his negotiations with Zob-e Ahan club because he could not leave his personal business to go to Isfahan. On the other hand, clubs under the control of the government and the IRGC in Tehran are not "currently" allowed to cooperate with him.
All of which means that, when the Iranian Premier League resumes on November 6, Ali Daei will stay out of the league for a second consecutive season.