Russia, Greece and the Netherlands Boost Iran’s Football Stars as Top European Destinations

sarda azmoun

Tasnim News Agency [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Iran will compete at back-to-back World Cups for the first time in their history when they travel to Russia for the 2018 edition of the tournament this summer, a sign of the nation’s growing stature in world football.

And the country’s football prospects have been developed by their increase in representation in Europe, with Russia, Greece and the Netherlands in particular offering their top stars a home on the continent.

The move to top-flight European football is seen as a marker of success in most circles, and Russian Premier League clubs employ three of Iran’s top 25 most valuable players, according to Transfermarkt and valuations.

Striker Sardar Azmoun is Iran’s biggest face—valued at €9 million, although he’d likely cost more in a transfer today—and plays for Russian outfit Rubin Kazan. Left-back Milad Mohammadi represents Akhmat Grozny, while midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi plays for Amkar Perm, both also in Russia. 

The other major employers of the biggest Iranian talent, the Greek Super League, the Dutch Eredivisie and Belgium’s Jupiler League, each house two of the nation’s top 25 most valuable stars.

Overall, eight of Iran’s top 10 most valuable players are based in European leagues, while one plays in the Qatar Stars League (Al Gharafa’s Mehdi Taremi) and one plays in his native Iran (Vahid Amiri of Persepolis FC).

The prominence of Iranian assets in Europe can only help benefit the country’s production of similarly gifted athletes in future, giving the next generation of stars a more recognisable example to follow.

Iran’s Persian Gulf Pro League has also started to secure more foreign players, although clubs are still limited to four foreign players per season, one of which can only come from countries in the Asian Football Confederation.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the most valuable clubs in the Persian Gulf Pro League tend to have more foreign players, while the least valuable clubs tend to have fewer.

Persian Gulf Pro League Transfer Spending
Season In Out Loss/Gain
17-18 £697k £995k £298k
16-17 £811k £324k -£487k
15-16 £543k £362k -£180k
14-15 £2.5m £1.87m -£615k
13-14 £4.1m £2.5m -£1.53m
12-13 £5.1m £2.75m -£2.36m
11-12 £3.1m £3.7m £623k
10-11 £675k £675k £0.00
9-10 £1.98m £1.03m -£945k
8-9 £45,000.00 £725k £675k

Per Transfermarkt, seven of the top 10 most valuable clubs in the division this season had utilised at least three of their four foreign player slots (two used two slots, Foolad FC signed no foreigners).

In contrast, none of the remaining six teams—the six least valuable in the Persian Gulf Pro League—employed more than two foreign players. Gostaresh Foolad FC and Siah Jamegan Khorasan housed two foreign players each, while the remaining four had none in their squad.

The proof appears to be in the pudding, too, considering each of the division’s last two champions have used all four of their foreign player slots en route to winning the title.

Iran National Team Value 2014 vs. 2018
2014 Squad
Player Name Club Value (£)
Ashkan Dejagah Fulham (EPL) £3.15m
Seyed Jalal Hosseini Persepolis £2.25m
Javad Nekounam Esteghlal £1.80m
Andranik Teymourian Al Kharitiyat £1.35m
Masoud Shojaei Las Palmas (Spain) £1.08m
Reza Ghoochannejhad Standard Liege (Belgium) £1.08m
Ehsan Hajsafi Sepahan £900k
Pejman Montazeri Esteghlal £900k
Khosro Heydari Esteghlal £900k
Hashem Beikzadeh Esteghlal £810k
Bakhtiar Rahmani Foolad £810k
Amir Hossein Sadeghi Esteghlal £720k
Daniel Davari Eintracht Braunschweig (Germany) £720k
Alireza Jahanbakhsh NEC Nijmegen (Netherlands) £675k
Reza Haghighi Persepolis £675k
Karim Ansarifard Persepolis £630k
Hossein Mahini Persepolis £585k
Mehrdad Pooladi Persepolis £585k
Rahman Ahmadi Saipa FC £450k
Ghasem Hadadifar Zob Ahan Esfahan £450k
Alireza Haghighi Rubin Kazan (Russia) £450k
Steven Beitashour Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS, US) £248k
Ahmad Alenemeh Naft Novin Tehran £180k
Total £21.28m

Key Stats

  • The biggest foreign arrival in the Persian Gulf Pro League this past winter was Senegalese attacker Mame Baba Thiam. The former Inter Milan and Juventus hopeful joined Esteghlal for a fee of €900,000, making him the third-most expensive player non-Iranian player ever to arrive in the division, per Transfermarkt.
  • The biggest winter departure from the Persian Gulf Pro League was Rafael Crivellaro, who was sold by Sepahan to Portuguese club Feirense for €360,000.
  • Eight of Iran’s top 10 most valuable players are based at European clubs
  • Only one of those top 10 plays in Iran’s Persian Gulf Pro League (Vahid Amiri, Persepolis FC)
  • Russia’s Premier League represents most Iranian stars in a European league (three of top 25)

The state of Iran’s national team has grown considerably in the past three-and-a-half years, and the 2018 squad, most of which will already be set ahead of this year’s World Cup, boasts a much greater value than its 2014 equivalent.

Whereas only six of the 23-man squad sent to play in Brazil four years ago plied their trade in Europe, the national team’s current roster boasts 11 players stationed on the continent.

Not only that, but the average player value and top player values have increased by wide margins, providing some indication as to how Iran have managed to qualify for successive World Cups for the first time in their history:

  • Rubin Kazan forward Sardar Azmoun is the most valuable Iranian player in the current squad, rated at £8.10 million, per Transfermarkt.
  • This is almost three times the value of Iran’s most valuable player in 2014, Ashkan Dejagah, who was then playing for Fulham in the Premier League and rated at £3.15 million.
  • The overall value of the squad has increased by roughly 80% in the space of four years. The 2014 World Cup squad came to a total value of £21.28 million, compared with the value of today’s selection, which is £38.27 million.
  • This means the average player value has also increased by roughly 79%. The average value of each of Iran’s 23 players in the 2014 World Cup squad was £925,000, whereas the average value of one of their players today has been boosted to £1.65 million.

See Iran National Team Value 2014 vs. 2018