Ali Daei retires
Feature: Ali Daei - A Legend Retires
One of Iran’s, and arguably Asia’s, most renowned footballers officially ended his playing career yesterday after collecting yet another feather for his distinguished cap.
World record international goalscorer Ali Daei, who took on the player/coach job at Iranian club Saipa earlier this season after German coach Werner Lorant unexpectedly resigned, announced his retirement as a player after leading his unfashionable side to its first ever Iranian Pro League title.
It has been a long journey. Daei started his football career nearly 26 years ago playing for his hometown club in the north-western town of Ardabil. As a tall and lanky kid he may have looked more suited for volleyball, but football was his true passion, and he played it with uncanny vigour.
Coming from a family that valued education, Daei enrolled in Tehran’s Sharif University. Football was never too far from his mind however, and he managed to maintain a well balanced student/athlete life playing for two minor clubs while he was attending university. He eventually graduated with an engineering degree.
His big break came in 1994 when he was picked up by Tehran giants Perspolis where, over two seasons, he scored 23 goals in 38 games. After one year in Qatar he moved to Germany where he became the first ever Iranian to play in the Bundesliga.
During his four year stay in Germany he played for Armenia Bielefeld, Bayern Munich, and Hertha Berlin with whom he stayed for two seasons. He scored three goals for Hertha during their 2000 UEFA Champions League campaign - two of which came against Chelsea and one against AC Milan.
After Germany came a series of one season stints with UAE’s Al-Shabab, Perspolis, and Saba Battery of Tehran before he landed with Saipa at the beginning of 2006-07 season.
Daei’s career has not been free of controversy. For most of his career he was adored by Iran’s passionate fans. This was most evident when he was dropped from the national squad in 1998 after a dispute with then coach Mohammad Mayeli-Kohan. The move prompted such uproar amongst the Iranian fans that the Daei was reinstated after missing two games and helped Iran qualify for France.
But four years later after Iran failed to qualify for Japan/Korea 2002 it obvious that Daei was not the player he used to be, Despite this, he refused to retire from the international game and was controversially called for most of Iran matches in the following four years and through a dreadful 2006 World Cup campaign in Germany.
It was during these last four years that the formerly adoring fans began to turn against their hero resulting in some ugly scenes when Daei had to play entire club and country games amid nonstop cat calls from the stands.
On Monday, during the post match interviews, the triumphant Daei was very gracious and perhaps uncharacteristically humble. He thanked his teammates, coaching staff, and club officials for “putting up” with him. He told reporters that he had not discussed his future with Saipa, but if he comes back as the manager next season he would make sure that Saipa be a good representative for Iranian football in Asia. He went on to praise the other teams for putting up a good fight to the very end, and refused to make any comments on the often suspect officiating in the Iranian PL this season.
No matter what one might think of Daei’s last four years, during which he scored 28 goals in 40 international games by the way, he must be credited for his unmatched ability to put the ball into the net for club and for the country throughout his illustrious career.
From 1993 through 2006 Daei scored an amazing 109 goals in 149 international games making him the most prolific scorer in FIFA history.
In his last three seasons with three different clubs in the Iranian PL, he scored an impressive 49 goals.
He finished this season with a total of 10 goals; seven short of the high mark shared by Erfan Olrom of Abu-Moslem and Mehdi Rajabzadeh of Zob-Ahan.
It was only befitting that the country’s most lethal number 10 ended his career scoring his 10th and last goal of the season in his last game ensuring that his team was the last team standing.