Foreign footballers leave Iran due to economic sanctions
The economic crisis engulfing Iran since the beginning of the year is a clear indication that the sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union over the country's nuclear program are finally having the desired effect.
One of the major causes of the crisis is the depreciation in value of the rial. The national currency has lost two-thirds of its value against foreign currencies in the last 10 months. Even sectors that have nothing to do with foreign markets are feeling the pressure. The sanctions have now begun to affect football in the country with league clubs no longer able to pay the wages of foreign players due to the economic crisis and falling value of the rial.
"Many of the foreign players can no longer be paid because of the currency crisis," explains one Iranian journalist.
Iranian first and second division clubs calculate their budgets according to the rial but pay foreign players in dollars. However, with the decline in the value of the rial, the cost of paying foreign footballers has in effect tripled, a bridge too far for even top clubs like Esteghlal.
Fabio Januario had been Esteghlal's top footballer and playmaker but the Brazilian hurriedly left Iran last week because he was no longer being paid. Although the 33-year-old subsequently apologized to the club's fans on Facebook, Januario intends, just like compatriot and team-mate Rodrigo Tosi, to take a case against the club to world football body FIFA.
Former Under-21 international Ferydoon Zandi has also left Iran after more than three years in the national league, to ply his trade in Qatar's second division where he is at least guaranteed a regular pay packet.
"They are not only not coming back but there will also be further consequences," wrote the Tehran daily newspaper 7 Sobh.
The ISNA news agency, meanwhile, fears that the problem is only going to escalate in the coming months, arguing that payment in dollars will also become a demand of coaches.
Several first division clubs have foreign coaches under contract, including Iran's most popular team Persepolis Tehran, where Portuguese Manuel Jose is at the helm. Although Jose is enjoying a far from successful time at the club, Pesepolis cannot afford to sack him.
"It is better to languish in mid-table than trying to get a new coach with the value of the currency as it is at the moment," explains Persepolis fan Kejwan.
The situation is even more precarious for the national team, where respected Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz is in charge.
"He is really expensive and very important," says the sports journalist.
The 59-year-old former Portugal and Real Madrid coach is well on the way to leading Iran to qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil following a 1-0 home win over South Korea. However, if Queiroz were to leave, Iran's qualification chances could suffer a fatal blow.
"He is still getting paid but the zeros that are now present on his pay packet as a result of the currency crisis can no longer be counted," jokes another sports journalist.
The economic problems brought about by sanctions could also lead to an exodus of Iran's top players, who can no longer be paid regularly as a result of the economic crisis. As most players are not of high enough quality to attract European league clubs, the most popular alternatives are the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
"The players are moving to these countries for economic reasons but because proper training regimes are not in place there, the quality of their play is deteriorating," says Esteghlal coach Hamid Ghalenoei.
Several of Iran's best players have lost their place in the Iranian national team after moving to both Gulf States, pointing out that money is as much part of professional football as performance.
Midfielder Andranik Teymourian has shown that both can be achieved. The Armenian moved to Qatar and not only earns a good and secure wage but has also retained his place in the Iranian squad.