By Niloufar Momeni
The 74th derby between Iran’s biggest football rivals, Esteghlal and Persepolis was played this week, ending with a shock 3-2 win for 10-man Piroozi against the current league leaders. It came as a surprise considering Persepolis’ poor form in recent times, currently placed in seventh spot in the league.
In light of this, Goal.com interviewed one of the prominent past stars of Persepolis’ historic 6-0 win over Esteghlal. When he played his first game at the age of 15, probably no pundit could imagine this player would become one of the Iranian national team’s best strikers of all time. His numerous honours include, but not limited to: seven league championships with Shahin, Peykan and Persepolis, the League Cup Championship and Asian Championship with Persepolis, two Asian Cup championship titles with the Iran national team, the 1972 Asian Cup top scorer award and Player of the Year honour.
Nicknamed as “the man with golden toes”, in an exclusive interview with Goal.com, 67-year-old Hossein Kalani paints his opinion of the current state of Iranian football with his former club Persepolis struggling while the national team battles to reach previous highs.
Goal.com: This year there was a serious talk to form a technical committee involving old-timers like you, to privatise Persepolis. How did that go? Why couldn’t the technical committee help the team or privatise it once and for all?
Hossein Kalani: These were all talks at best. Persepolis and Esteghlal belong to the people. Such old clubs are tied to cultural-socio-economies of their fans and therefore it is not possible, or financially viable, for people to take over their clubs. Therefore government wants to control these two clubs.
These two clubs can never be privatised; because of reasons I mentioned earlier such as copyrights issues, and no private entity have the capacity to invest $8 million in each of these clubs. If they issue public shares through IPO, for the first year fans may be too excited and buy shares but this trend is not sustainable. No investor can afford to put $8m of his money there when there is no means of revenue generation there. The privatisation of Esteghlal-Persepolis clubs is all talk and nothing else.
Our football is ill. This will manifest itself in all aspects. In technical terms, this team is not even comparable with elite teams, or even Asian teams
As for the technical committee, it is not possible in the long-term. Maybe it could work from a management perspective because of these people’s past management experience but with no financial backing, it is impossible. I don’t think these two clubs can ever be privately owned.
Goal.com: Persepolis’ case has became a puzzle for so many fans. Why has this team become a leading example of failing management in our football? What are officials doing wrong?
HK: In general, I don’t consider myself as an expert to comment on these issues. At some point, I was just playing for the team. Therefore my judgement is just as a fan... Our football is ill. This will manifest itself in all aspects. In technical terms, this team is not even comparable with elite teams, or even Asian teams. Because a certain mentality and situation are in possession of our football right now, and our football system is not relied on the right backbone.
Like any other sport in our country, football is also an imported sport in our country. Those sports in other countries require their own culture. Unfortunately like other things in our country, we don’t have a culture of it. It is like the car example in Iran; we have luxury imported cars but we have yet to have the culture of driving cars.
Other countries have worked hard in their football for many years, and have gone through many ups and downs to get to this point. Teams like Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Santos, Bayer Leverkusen etc, all are professional teams that have technical-cultural-financing regulations in place for their clubs. We don’t have these set regulations at Persepolis and after Revolution because of government control.
Therefore, because of this particular system in place now, unlike in professional teams, team discipline, football education, financing and club plans for players do not exist in our country. Every player, coach even fans only think of themselves first, than the team. The mentality is “first me then us”. But in countries with professional football, the mentality is taught to them as "first us then me".
|"Every player, coach even fans only think of themselves first, than the team. The mentality is “first me then us”. But in countries with professional football, the mentality is taught to them as "first us then me"."|
We face this big problem in our teams, where everyone looks at financial and momentary benefit for themselves, and are wary of a structured foundation. Therefore it affects teams’ morals and performance. As for team results, they also depend on management’s approach in the transfer market and their allocated budget by the government. In the last one-two seasons in particular, Persepolis’ management and its communication approach between management and coaches because of their differences were critical issues that gripped the team morals, training and transfer market, leading to instability in the club with all the coaching and managerial changes and fans’ protests in between.
Goal.com: With new coach Mustafa Denizli in charge, and prominent players such as Mehdi Mahdavikia, Ali Karimi and Vahid Hashemian in the line-up, do you see any short-medium term success or even championship at Persepolis?
HK: Again I’m not an expert, more importantly one can only comment if he works in the club. Results that Persepolis got since Denizli’s arrival brought a positive shock at the club. The question is how long this shock can heal the wounded feelings of the last 16 games for players whom had to deal with stress, disappointment.
The thing is players have become lazy, indifferent, if you will. You feel like they are waiting for the match to finish just like an employee. The miserable season’s poor results have put a gap between fans and players. The past two-three weeks, with luck Persepolis could win, but it is not sustainable if they still record a win thanks to a last minute winner. We have to wait until end of season to be more accurate. We have to see if there will be club management changes again or not.
In technical aspects, we have become like Arab teams sacking managers so fast, so furious. It takes time for any positive change to sustain. We haven’t seen a club keeping a coach for three straight seasons, with the exception of Foolad and Naft Tehran that have kept their coaches for three seasons. But still team managers don’t have peace of mind and job security, with all the rumours of getting sacked in the media on a constant basis, and all the mental stress. Also management are all selected by government. They too don’t have job security. Therefore planning is difficult and really short-term planning is not effective. It would be as ineffective as Aspirin to cure a headache. Momentarily decisions do not solve any problem.
It used to be that our second-third rated teams wouldn’t feel challenged playing against Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and Oman. But now they challenge us. From management to players, this individuality, personal benefits and momentary benefits have taken our football back for many years
Goal.com: But considering all that, how come Zob Ahan and Sepahan have fared better in the past decade, both in the Asian Club Championship and domestically, on average, than Persepolis and Esteghlal?
HK: Zob Ahan and Sepahan are also government-controlled. Their financing and management appointment is also dependent on government. For instance, as you saw this season with the managerial changes Sepahan had to go through and also Zob Ahan, they are now ranked at mid-bottom of the table. For three-four seasons they had stability and we still witness their positive effects of it, but still Sepahan of this season is far worse off than its previous form four years ago.
As for their record in the Asian Champions League, we can’t compare Zob Ahan and Sepahan to Persepolis and Esteghlal. Iranian football used to be leading Asian champions. Other Asian countries, Japan, South Korea, even Arab countries with investments they’ve made, they’ve levelled our past spot already. It used to be that our second-third rated teams wouldn’t feel challenged playing against Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and Oman. But now they challenge us. We’ve fell far behind from science of sport. From management to players, this individuality, personal benefits and momentary benefits have taken our football back for many years. There is also a lack of football education for passionate kids who like to play as a career. We are not even a top-rated team in Asia anymore. Our ACL spot is reduced from four to two secure spots which will harm our football and it is a huge challenge for our clubs.
Goal.com: And one last question: in one of your interviews, you’ve been quoted as saying: “Iranian football is like an unfinished building with weak foundations. It needs the right fundamentals as the backbone”. As an engineer and legendary player who has seen Iran in 1960’s and also now, what fundamental changes are needed to take place in Iranian football
to get back to its glorious days again?
HK: Unfortunately, all our clubs carry the name of “cultural, sport, and educational” but they don’t have any of them in real sense. They don’t offer any education nor have any culture associated with the club. Except Sepahan and Zob Ahan because of investment and right planning. In general our clubs are just teams. When there is no youth academy or structured organisation, when there is no talent scouting, or education, our teams can never succeed with just buying players from other teams. Our existing players are flourished through their raw talent, and by luck. This is a big problem.
When the backbone of our football foundations is so weak, just like a building with weak foundation, it will eventually get demolished. That is the case with our sport. If they care about foundation with education and investment in youth, our youth will flourish. Even for education of youth in elementary schools, usually the best teacher is responsible for first graders, because education and discovering their talent at such early age is very important. The same should apply in our sport. There are some seminars in place currently but that needs time to take effect. After all, we need to accelerate as other teams are keeping up fast with science of sport. There are all these problems in our country that hope they get solved as our young people truly deserve it.