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Iranian Football Legend Ali Daei Under Fire For Backing Protesters

December 8, 2022
Payam Younesipour
4 min read
Football legend Ali Daei has been a source of pride for Iranians.
Football legend Ali Daei has been a source of pride for Iranians.
The moment before Ali Daei is about to be severely injured at the 1994 Asian Games.
The moment before Ali Daei is about to be severely injured at the 1994 Asian Games.

Iran's semiofficial ISNA news agency reported this week that the restaurant and jewelry store owned by former Iranian soccer star Ali Daei in Tehran has been sealed, while a newspaper affiliated with the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei claimed his wealth was “unearned” and “unwarranted”.

Daei, a former Iranian national team captain and the country’s record international goalscorer, is being targeted after he revealed last week he had received threats over his vocal support for the anti-government demonstrations that have rocked Iran for 12 weeks and for criticizing the authorities for their brutal crackdown on the protests.

In this report, IranWire takes a look at the life of the 53-year-old Iranian football legend and the source of his wealth.

A source of pride for Iranians

The 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games has left Iran football fans with one dramatic scene: Daei rolling and twisting on the ground with midfielder Amir Ghalenoei next to him calling for the medical team to rush into the field.

The 25-year-old Daei, a metallurgy graduate from Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology, was about to try a headshot when Bahrain’s goalkeeper kicked him in the belly.

Daei was not replaced during the match and remained in the field for the last 20 minutes. “My ruptured spleen in the game with Bahrain in Hiroshima was my most painful memory in sports,” he said in a TV interview years later. “These 20 minutes were like 200 years for me.”

The doctors who treated Daei called his survival a miracle.

Daei is a source of pride for Iranian football.

The footballer ended his international career after scoring 109 goals for Iran between 1993 and 2006, a record broken by Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo last year.

His brows, jaws, shanks and shoulders bear the marks of sutures and fractures that he received during his career in Iran’s national football team.

Daei is now invited to FIFA’s big events such as the World Cup opening and closing ceremonies.

Where his wealth come from

 According to the German football website Transfermarkt, Daei has earned more than $14 million for playing for Germany’s Arminia Bielefeld and Bayern Munich, the U.A.E.’s Al Shabab and Al Sadd FC in Qatar.

In 1997, he signed a contract worth 1.5 million euros with Arminia Bielefeld, an amount that remains very attractive to Iranian footballers today. With the 2.55-million-euro contract signed in 1998 with Bayern Munich, he became the most high-priced Asian footballer.

Between 1999 and 2003, Daei played for Germany’s Hertha Berlin with a base contract of 2.77 million euros, an amount that increased every year. He joined Al Shabab in 2003 following the signing of a contract worth 2 million U.S. dollars.

When Daei returned to Iran, he had earned his wealth by playing football for some of the best clubs in Europe and the Middle East.

“Considering the taxes that I have paid, right now I could have retired in Germany with a monthly pension of 10,000 euros,” Daei told the news agency ILNA in June.

How many individuals approved by the Islamic Republic has brought so much money into the country in recent years?

Why the regime is targeting Daei

 Daei did not own only a jewelry shop and a restaurant. While he was playing for European football clubs, he founded the company Daei Apparel with the help of his brothers.

Daei Apparel, which was specialized in producing sports outfits, supplied Iran’s national teams and clubs for a while.

In a 2011 interview with the official newspaper Iran, Daei claimed that more than 15,000 people in the country worked for the company.

It has been reported that if someone in his hometown of Ardebil, in northwestern Iran, needed a job, Daei Apparel would offer him one.

In March 2022, however, Iranian media reported that Daei Apparel was shut down due to the economic situation and other obstacles created by the National Tax Administration.

In other words, the government put an end to a legitimate business that had provided jobs for thousands of Iranians.

Daei also engaged in humanitarian activities.

In 2017, he opened his personal bank account to public contributions aimed at helping the victims of Kurdistan’s devastating earthquake. He started buying and gathering goods for the victims and posted pictures on Instagram of himself distributing them.

The ex-footballer was accused in 2018 of pocketing more than $7 million of people’s money, a charge that nobody believed. The next year, Daei was summoned to the National Police’s Special Operation Center.

Iranian authorities are now closing down Daei’s businesses in Tehran after he supported nationwide protests both in 2019 and in 2022.

In a recently leaked audio recording, General Ghasem Ghoreishi, acting commander of the paramilitary Basij Organization, can be heard insulting Daei, his wife and their daughter,.

The Iranian football legend had called on the government to “solve the problems of the Iranian people rather than using repression, violence and arrests.”

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