Over the past two years, Ali Karimi has become the hottest property in Iranian, if not west Asian, football.
His mesmerising runs, driving style and outrageous skill have already alerted the likes of Italy’s Perugia and Atletico Madrid of Spain to the potential of the 22-year-old Pirouzi striker.
Karimi’s rise has been remarkable given that before joining the current champions at the start of the 1998-99 season he was at Second Division Fath, where training was conducted on the streets with a plastic ball.
Karimi was quick to find success with Pirouzi, winning the domestic Double in 1999 and the championship again in 2000. International honours came even more rapidly, as he helped Iran to win the 1998 Asian Games, most notably by scoring in the Final.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, a move to Europe is more than likely. A projected transfer to Perugia was aborted in September last year after the Italians baulked at the œ1.4million asking price, despite having been impressed with Karimi following a trial.
Now Atletico are poised to step in after officials saw him lead Pirouzi into the semi-finals of this year’s Asian Club Championship.
‘It’s a dream for every player to play in a League like Spain’s,’ says Karimi, ‘and I will do my best to go there. But I don’t want to go there just to get a contract; I want to go and play.’
Karimi is well aware that Iranian players – apart from the likes of Ali Daei and Mehdi Mahdavikia – have struggled tosettle in Europe and are soon returning home.
The youngster is adamant this won’t happen to him and is more than happy to try his luck with Atletico, despite the fact that they are currently in Spain’s Second Division.
‘That’s not important,’ he says. ‘My first aim is to play in a foreign country. I was in Madrid on trial for four days and I enjoyed it very much. It’s a beautiful city. If I can go to Madrid it would be very good for me and I’m sure I can succeed there.
‘My current contract is in Pirouzi’s favour; they have termed it so that they earn more money. But I’ve told them I’m waiting for the end of the season because then I will be free and I can choose where to go.’ It seems Karimi will have no lack of offers if he does decide he wants to leave Iran. As well as Atletico, Dubai club Al Nasr have also moved to secure his services.
Karimi, though, is in no rush. ‘I’ll do my best to go but if it isn’t possible I can wait,’ he says. OI’m still young and I’ll have a lot of opportunities.’ Michael Church
Born November 8, 1978
Previous club Fath
Honours Asian Games gold medal 1998; West Asian Championship 2000; Iranian League 1999, 2000; Iranian Cup 1999