For over a year, media outlets affiliated with or closely tied to the Iranian government have positioned football player Mehdi Taremi as a favored choice for top-tier European clubs.
Tabnak news website even announced that Manchester United considered the current striker for FC Porto in Portugal its "first choice."
It also claimed the Daily Mail had reported the transfer as a done deal, something the UK newspaper hasn’t done.
So the following questions arises:
Can the 31-year-old Taremi join a top-level team in Europe while clubs there are seeking talented players under the age of 22 to bolster their attacking options?
And why are certain media outlets in Iran promoting a footballer with close ties with the Islamic Republic?
Taremi’s Anti-Israel Tweet
Before addressing the validity of the claims surrounding Taremi's potential transfers, let's go back to 2017.
On December 8 of that year, Taremi tweeted a message in Persian, English and Hebrew that called for "the destruction of Israel" and was accompanied by an image of the islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
"Imam Khamenei: Israel will not see the next 25 years," he also wrote.
With his controversial message, Taremi, the current striker for FC Porto in Portugal, garnered the attention of pro-government Iranian media outlets – the same that are claiming UK clubs are considering the player a potential recruit.
But the United Kingdom has specific legislation pertaining to Israel and anti-Semitism, and the school curriculum includes lessons on the Holocaust.
In December 2016, the UK government formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
In a speech the same day, then-Prime Minister Theresa May said the adoption meant “there will be one definition of anti-Semitism – in essence, language or behavior that displays hatred towards Jews because they are Jews – and anyone guilty of that will be called out on it.”
As an illustrative case, in February 2023, an individual by the name of Sheikh Abdullah el-Faisal who used his social media platforms to incite violence against Jews and advocate the destruction of Israel was sentenced to nine years in prison.
The stringent laws against promoting extremism, hatred or violence raises the question of whether Manchester United, Tottenham or Chelsea could potentially sign a contract with a player who has called for the destruction of Israel.
Was Mehdi Manchester United’s Ultimate Choice?
An article published in 2021 by the government-affiliated media outlet Varzesh 3 described Taremi as the Juventus club’s pick, but the Iranian player has not changed clubs yet.
Tabnak quoted The Guardian as saying he was Manchester United’s top choice, while the UK newspaper only reported that Taremi was "one of the options proposed to the club."
This report also said that the 26-year-old forward Ivan Tunney was the leading candidate to join the club.
From Presidential Lobbying to Making Up Legal Cases
"I've known Mr. Mokhber's son [Vice President Mohammad Mokhber] for many years, and we've maintained contact. After the match with Iraq, Mr. Mokhaber visited us, and the boys requested gifts, including the right to import [luxury] cars."
Taremi made the comments on Twitter on 17 July 2021, as he and Alireza Jahanbakhsh, another striker, faced criticism over their presence in the office of President Ebrahim Raisi.
Both Taremi and Jahanbakhsh have used their Instagram accounts to express support for Iran's stance toward Israel, the Islamic Republic’s military and militia groups backed by Tehran.
In June 2021, they met with Raisi and Mohammed Mokhber in an attempt to achieve three objectives: the removal of the national team’s head coach Dragan Skocic, the return of Carlos Queiroz, and obtaining permission to import cars.
The first objective was accomplished four months later and, in less than a year, their cars were successfully imported to the country in pristine condition.
Due to Taremi’s connections with government entities, certain players perceive him to be more influential than the national team's head coach and as powerful as the president of the football federation.
In an interview with Iranian media published on 16 October, he warned that “speaking against the national team constitutes an act against national interest."
The phrase "action against national security" has been used in recent years in judicial cases involving political activists, social advocates and journalists.