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Asian Debate: Is Coaching Persepolis The Biggest And Most Difficult Job In Asian Club Football?

It wouldn’t be an Iranian league season is there wasn’t some Persepolis drama to give proceedings that extra edge.

The latest twist in this Azadi adventure was the on-off sacking of coach Zlatko Kranjcar just eight games into his tenure at the weekend. The Persepolis hotseat must be made of spikes it is so uncomfortable – at least for foreign coaches.

Zlatko Kranjcar

The sad part is that Persepolis is already a high-pressure job before all the other nonsense is mixed into the explosive equation.

The club is the biggest in Asia. It may not be the best, the most beautiful or the richest, but it means more to more people than any other team on the continent. Persepolis are an institution - though fans of city rivals Esteghlal may disagree.

The Blues must be laughing at their Azadi co-residents. Esteghlal are not averse to a little drama themselves but it is the Reds that usually hog the headlines. Both teams will share the column inches this week as they face each other in the Tehran Derby - a game that could be Kranjcar's last in Iran.

The Tehran Derby Will Be Huge This Week

National team coach Afshin Ghotbi, who led Persepolis to the title in 2007 – another season that redefines the term ‘roller-coaster’ – said about the club: "The hashyeeh (side issues) are unbelievable at Persepolis. Some papers write quotes on behalf of players criticising their team-mates when such conversations never took place.

"Quotes have been attributed to me that I never made … also, let's say I hold a private conversation. The meeting ends and within ten minutes a reporter calls me to ask about it. Big clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid have similar pressures from fans and media but I doubt that such an information flow exists anywhere else."

Persepolis Fans

The Tehran football media is a fearsome beast and has a cause-and-effect relationship with the giant club. They feed off each other.

This certainly doesn’t foster an atmosphere of stability, something the club desperately needs. Kranjcar is/was the tenth head coach this decade and the sixth to come from overseas. It does seem that such names as Arie Haan (six months) Mustafa Denizli (ten months) and Nelo Vingada (three months) – have serious problems dealing with the life in Tehran on and off the pitch.

Even if results are good, the hashyeeh hover on the horizon. If results are not great then serious problems are inevitable. Eight games this season had yielded just 11 points and eighth place. It goes without saying however that eight games is not much for a foreign coach to be judged on, especially one unfamiliar with Iranian football.

Tough Times For Persepolis

The team was also pretty much set even before Kranjcar arrived but he came with some long-term plans in place. That time-frame doesn’t really exist at the Azadi but the fans who witnessed the home defeat against Paykan that apparently cost the Croat his job, were not calling for his head but were instead directing much of their ire in the direction of general manager Abbas Ansarifard.

This was a guy who denied that he fired Kranjcar claiming that he merely relieved the Croatian of his duties on Friday. A meeting of the technical committee the following day reinstated the boss though can’t be feeling too secure at the moment.

Kranjcar has been resistant to interference from the committee and other interested parties when it comes to the playing side of things. The fact that the coach of Persepolis is subject to such pressures is one reason why foreign coaches rarely last too long.

Fans of the more cynical persuasion have already suggested that this whole episode has been engineered to show Kranjcar just who is boss. Whatever happens, it will be a surprise if the Croatian makes it to the end of the season.

He may choose to walk. This is not a man who appreciates such pressure. Barely more than a week ago, after hearing that the general manager had told reporters that he had to get a result in the next match or else, the 52 year-old said that he didn’t accept ultimatums. Abbisfard then denied issuing an ultimatum at all.

Kranjcar won that mini-battle but he has little chance of winning the war at Persepolis – a club that means so much to so many that one man is rarely allowed to run it.

John Duerden

Asia Editor