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The Tehran giants may enjoy massive support but it was Sepahan who clinched their third straight Iranian title on Friday, prompting to ask whether something must change

By Niloufar Momeni | Iran Correspondent

Oh not this story again! Yes, it's the tale of two hugely popular Asian teams failing over and over again.

If the history of football proves anything, having millions of fans does not necessarily translate into team success and glories. Otherwise Argentina’s Boca Juniors, or Spain’s Real Madrid would constantly win their respective domestic league championship and claim continental glory. Indeed, it seems the way for Iran’s Persepolis and Esteghlal, who both can count on the support of around 40 million fans, continue to fail to perform above par.

For too long government subsidies, lavish spending sprees in the Iranian transfer market, constant media support and favourable TV rights coverage have spoiled these two Tehran giants; all at the expense of battered passionate fans who have been incredibly patient in recent years.
PAS Tehran

In the 2011-12 Iranian season, Asia’s most attended club, Persepolis, was lucky to have avoided relegation with a dismal 12th-place finish. That is despite spending the highest among Iranian clubs in pre-season, with former directors laying out more than $8.25 million (€6.4m) on new players, according to their announcements. Yet despite the hefty Chelsea-likened unconditional spending spree, the Reds’ new arrivals have yet to perform up to their well-known names, unlike their younger compatriots from other teams such as newly-crowned champions Sepahan or runners-up Tractor Sazi.

Persepolis’ underwhelming performances in the AFC Champions League (ACL) this season too, are a good example of their struggles, as they must get a result against away to Al Shabab next Tuesday to avoid a premature exit from the competition.

Their crosstown rivals, Esteghlal, are not doing much better either, at least not in Asian competition. The Blues are also placed second in their group, awaiting their final matchday encounter against Nasaf Qarshi next Wednesday knowing that failure to claim a result in Uzbekistan may see them crash out of the competition. Domestically, they finished third, again despite spending over $8m (€6.2m) on new players.

Those are all in wild contrast to Iran’s less popular and less hyped Iranians teams who receive far less government subsidies, TV coverage and with fewer supporters. Lets take Sepahan and Zob Ahan as examples. Their budgets were slashed by half this season, yet because they have strong youth academies, with much more stable board management, in the past decade their record in Asia has surpassed that of Persepolis and Esteghlal combined.

"Persepolis has spent over $5m (€3.8m) each season on new players, sacked 12 managers with an average coaching duration of only seven-and-a-half months... but have only managed one league title and two cup triumphs"

To put these in perspective, in the past decade, Persepolis has spent over $5m (€3.8m) each season on new players, have sacked 12 managers with an average coaching duration of only seven-and-a-half months. There's also been 11 government-appointed director changes in the past decade alone. Over the past decade, as their star diminishes, the overhyped Persepolis have only managed two league titles, two cup triumphs and only three appearances in Asian competition with a hardly impressive record in the ACL.

In comparison, government-funded Esteghlal have also spent as much as Persepolis in the past decade yet that has come at the cost of nine directors and nine managers in 10 seasons with a 13-month average duration for each coach. The result of instability has seen two league title wins, three cup triumphs and just four ACL appearances, of which only once have the Blues made it to the semi-finals in the past decade.

Yet because some other teams have their fundamentals and competent management in place, they have clearly outpaced Persepolis and Esteghlal in all aspects. Maybe that would hit the nail on the head for many that despite all the support, the Tehran 'giants' are just mere average teams now which are overly hyped by media coverage and player agents.

"Sepahan have won four league titles, three cup titles, a remarkable seven appearances in Asian competition, including a runners-up spot and a Club World Cup quarter-final spot, all in the past decade"

You know there are fundamental flaws at the club when both teams’ performances are constantly dependent on the mood of star players. Yet in the meantime the likes of Zob Ahan and Sepahan have managed to get the best out of their young talent, with distinguished records in Asia every season. Sepahan for instance, have been in domestic league’s top 10 teams for six seasons, out of which they have won four league titles, three cup titles, made a remarkable seven appearances in Asian competition and an even more impressive record of the ACL runners-up spot and a Club World Cup quarter-final spot, all in the past decade. 

Even Zob Ahan with a much lower budget than Sepahan, Esteghlal and Persepolis, in the past 10 years, have constantly been among the top 10 IPL teams, won the 2003-04 Hazfi Cup and reached the 2010 ACL final; something Esteghlal and Persepolis fans have long dreamed without any luck.  

So in this context, the question is for how long the Red and Blue fans have to endure this pain before expecting an improvement on results from their overly hyped teams? And for how long government guarantees lavish support for their sweetheart teams, when success and pride are carried by other teams? Something has got to give.

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