Known for its reliable defense at the World Cup, Iran's team has been incredible on the biggest football events, creating some memorable moments.
Although the Middle Eastern countries have always had fewer talents in comparison to countries like Brazil, there have still been some incredible players who broke some international records.
As football continues to expand its reach over the globe, we’ll probably see more talents emerging. Some of these well-known players are Ashkan Dejahgah, Sardar Azmoun, and Alireza Jahanbakhsh who is currently playing in the English Premier League.
Providing a comprehensive list of the greatest Persian soccer players of all time is not easy since there have been numerous top-level players competing in a variety of different leagues over the years.
It is believed that being considered the best footballer should be based on more than just trophies, but the players' talent, individual skills, and consistency all constitute their achievements.
Iranian players still need to go beyond the group stages, however, and will be desperate to improve that record at the subsequent World Cups.
The list of the best Iranian football players ever does not just consist of the most successful players within the top leagues, but players who have boosted the profile of Persian football during their careers.
Ali Daei, born 21 March 1969, is an Iranian former professional footballer, football manager, and businessman. He was the captain of the Iran national football team, and played as a striker for clubs such as Bayern Munich and Hertha BSC.
It is worth mentioning that Daei was graduated from the Sharif University of Technology in Materials Engineering. He was a prolific goalscorer, who was known for his heading accuracy and ability in the air.
Daei is among the best Iranian footballers of all time and also the world's all-time leading goalscorer in the history of men's international football with 109 goals scored for Iran, an achievement listed in Guinness World Records!
Cristiano Ronaldo has recently surpassed 100 international goals, just eight short of Daei’s record. It is quite raesonable to say that Ronaldo will eventually break Daei’s record but for the time being Daei is the top international goalscorer ever.
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Daei once said, “I’m so proud for as long as it lasts. But records are meant to be broken. I’m happy such a great player will surpass me because I consider Ronaldo among the top three players ever.”
The clinical striker's record at international level simply cannot be ignored. Daei boasts a unique place in history as the top scorer in international football, overtaking the great Ferenc Puskas in 2003 before going on to become the first player to break into three figures.
His tally of 149 appearances unsurprisingly makes him the most capped player in Iran's history and puts him 14th in the all-time list of international appearance-makers from any country.
He featured in both the 1998 and 2006 World Cups, although was unable to find the back of the net at either tournament. However, he was still among the greatest Persian soccer players of all time.
At club level, he spent a notable one-year stint at Bayern Munich having been earmarked by club legend Franz Beckenbauer as a "world-class striker".
His short spell in Germany saw him pick up a league and cup double, while at the end of his time with Bayern he was named the Asian Footballer of the Year. Daei’s net worth is estimated to be around $110 million.
Ali Karimi, born 8 November 1978, is an Iranian football coach and former footballer. He has played for Fath Tehran, Persepolis, Al-Ahli Dubai, Bayern Munich, Qatar SC, Steel Azin, Schalke 04, Tractor Sazi, and the Iran national team for which he scored 38 goals in 127 appearances.
Karimi was born under the birth name Mohammad-Ali Karimi Pashaki. In 2008, he criticized the IRIFF and was banned from the Iranian national team, until President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intervened.
In 2013, the Iranian midfielder joined Tractor Sazi after spending two seasons with Persepolis. He became a member of the Iranian national team in 1998. In 2004, Karimi was titled as Asian Footballer of the Year. He has always been among the best Iranian soccer players of all time.
In 2001, Karimi signed with Al Ahli in the United Arab Emirates for a reported salary of $1.3 million for two years. In that season, Al-Ahli managed to win its first trophy, when they became the Winners of the President Cup in 2001–02 season.
Karimi scored a league-high 14 goals for Al Ahli in 2004. In 2020, he was named the best foreign player in the United Arab Emirates league as well.
In 2005, Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich's website announced that they had signed a one-year contract with Karimi, who became the third Iranian after Ali Daei and Vahid Hashemian to try his luck with Bayern.
Karimi was not the first Iranian player to try his luck in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, but he is probably the most renowned.
In 2004, Iran hosted Germany in a friendly game in which Karimi played. The magazine kicker picked Karimi as the man of the match.
FC Bayern's scouts studied Karimi in Dubai closer and came back with a recommendation not to sign the player due to doubts over his fitness. However, the club decided to go ahead with the signing despite the negative recommendations.
Karimi ended up sitting on the bench in the 2006–07 season, and on 29 May 2007, Bayern Munich announced that Karimi was leaving the club, though his new club was not known.
Finally, he announced his retirement at the end of the 2013–14 season and, on 11 April 2014, played the final game of his 18-year playing career to put his name on the list of the best Iranian footballers of all time.
Javad Nekounam, born 7 September 1980, is an Iranian retired footballer who played as a central midfielder, and is the current manager of Foolad FC.
As one of the best Iranian soccer players of all time, Nekounam spent most of his professional career with Pas and Spain's Osasuna, appearing in 197 official games and scoring 31 goals over his two spells with the latter club and also being team captain.
The man captaining Iran into the summer's World Cup was long-serving midfielder Nekounam, who has already amassed a mammoth 136 caps in a 14-year international career.
Few players were more instrumental in getting the team to the finals either, with Nekounam topping the goalscoring charts in Iran's qualifying campaign. That’s why his name is on the list of the best Iranian footballers of all time.
The 33-year-old has experience at the World Cup having featured in two of Team Melli's group games at the 2006 edition, only missing the final match against Angola through suspension.
Internationally, Nekounam helped Iran to succeed in the 2003 AFC-OFC Challenge Cup, the 2002 Asian Games, and the 2004 West Asian Football Federation Championship.
A large chunk of his career was spent in La Liga with Osasuna, where he played more than 197 matches during a six-year stint.
In 2012, he moved back to Iran as one of the best Persian footballers of all time and continued to impress, being named runner-up in the Asian Footballer of the Year.
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Mehdi Mahdavikia, born 24 July 1977, is an Iranian professional football coach and former player usually played as a right winger or full-back.
Mahdavikia is currently under contract by Hamburger SV as a youth coach, and also manages his own youth academy, FC KIA.
Mahdavikia currently represents Asian Football Confederation in the Football Advisory Panel of International Football Association Board, joining the body in 2019. On 15 May 2013, Mahdavikia was appointed as AFC Grassroots Ambassador.
During his playing career, Mahdavikia internationally represented Iranian national team, which he captained from 2006 to 2009, and currently is one of the best Iranian footballers of all time.
He played for Iranian clubs Bank Melli, Persepolis, Steel Azin, and Damash Gilan, as well as German clubs VfL Bochum, Hamburger SV, and Eintracht Frankfurt, spending 12 consecutive seasons in Bundesliga.
As one of the best Iranian footballers of all time, Mahdavikia won the Asian Young Footballer of the Year award in 1997 as well as the Asian Footballer of the Year award in 2003 by the Asian Football Confederation.
Mahdavikia confirmed on 14 March 2013 that he ended his active football career. He played his last match as a football player in the 2013 Hazfi Cup Final, coming on extra time as a substitute.
Later, in 2013, he played a farewell match at Azadi Stadium between Persepolis XI and A.C. Milan XI.
Having been awarded the Asian Young Footballer of the Year award in 1997, Mahdavikia was considered best Iranian footballer in the 1998 FIFA World Cup and was named in the list from which the team of the tournament was chosen.
Karim Bagheri, born 20 February 1974, is a former Iranian professional football player. He played over half of his professional career for Persepolis in the Persian Gulf Pro League. He is currently an assistant coach for the Iran national football team under Dragan Skočić.
Iranian midfielder Bagheri mainly became known for his powerful long-distance shots. He was a member of the Iranian national team from 1993 to 2010 and played for Persepolis during the 1996-97 season and again from 2002 to 2010 before retiring and was ranked as one of the best Iranian footballers of all time.
Numerous impressive displays ended up in Bagheri attracting attention from many European clubs and on 1 August 1997, a year after he signed a contract with Persepolis, Bagheri signed with German Bundesliga side Arminia Bielefeld along with his fellow Iranian international Ali Daei.
In 2000, Bagheri became the first when he made his debut in England for Charlton – although he had very little success there, only playing 15 minutes during the entire season in a game against Ipswich Town. His father's death, international call-ups and injuries restricted him from making appearances in his first year.
In 2001, Bagheri joined Al Sadd and after playing one season for the Qatari club, he returned to Persepolis to play nine years for the Reds, spanning a decade. Bagheri nearly played 200 matches for Persepolis and scored 33 goals.
In 2002, he decided to return to Persepolis once again. In September 2006, many thought he had been released from the team after arguments with management and staff over the club's financial commitments and unpaid wages. On 1 December 2010, Bagheri announced that he would retire and leave Persepolis.
According to many, Bagheri will forever be known as a gentleman of football. Bagheri won the fair play award in 2010. In a ceremony held at the Olympic Hotel on Monday night Bagheri won the fair play award of the past nine editions of IPL.
“I am so happy to win the award. I request the football officials to pay tribute to players who have the spirit of fair play and decency,” Bagheri said. “Each player has to keep his cool during the match. I want to be a good example for all Iranian youngsters.”
Another best Iranian footballer of all time is Khodadad Azizi who was born 22 June 1971. He is an Iranian retired professional football striker and coach. After playing for a few clubs in Iran and following his performance in Asia, he moved to Germany in 1997 to play for FC Köln.
Azizi along with his Iranian national teammates Ali Daei and Karim Bagheri, were among the first Iranians to enter German Bundesliga.
Having drawn 1-1 with Australia in the first leg of their qualification play-off in Tehran, they trailed 2-0 in Melbourne with less than 20 minutes remaining.
“The goal I scored against Australia was the most memorable of my career,” Azizi, who netted 11 times in 47 games for Iran between 1992 and 2005, told reporters. “Not only because the goal was important for us, but also because of what was at stake.”
Azizi fought off strong competition to be chosen as Player of the Year. He was given the award ahead of fellow team-mate Ali Daei, Korean star Ko Jeong Woon, and the Saudi pair of Mohammad Al Daeyea and Yousef Al Thuniyan.
After the 2005–06 season, Azizi retired from club and international football. He finished his international career with 47 caps and 11 goals.
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Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, born 25 May 1966, is an Iranian former footballer who played as a goalkeeper. He played for Esteghlal, Sepahan, Persepolis, and the Iranian national team. He made 79 appearances for Iran, and played for his country at the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
Abedzadeh is one of the best known goalkeepers in Iranian football history and one of the best Iranian footballers of all time. His spirit and quick moves led Iran to the World Cup 1998 and his fantastic saves helped Iran attain respectable results in the tournament.
Unfortunately, Abedzadeh suffered a stroke in 2001 and that was the point in which he let go of professional football. During his time in the hospital, many of his loyal fans and most of Iran prayed for him to recover.
He was released some weeks later, but required a number of surgeries after, and even to this day, he has side effects from his stroke. Abedzadeh suffered again on March 11, 2007 when his mother died.
On January 13, 2006, Abedzadeh had his farewell game, playing for Iranian giants and his former club Persepolis FC in a friendly match against Bayern Munich.
Named the Eagle of Asia for his ability to protect the net, his international career stretched for a distinguished 11 years, a tenure that provided stability and uncanny leadership. His goalkeeping skills in Iran is rivaled only by Nasser Hejazi.
Ali Parvin, born 20 September 1946, is a retired Iranian football player and coach. He is regarded as one of the greatest Iranian footballers in history.
During his career, Parvin has been associated mainly with Persepolis, played for the team for 18 years, managed the club for 17 years in three occasion and also the club's president.
He was selected as one of the seventeen Asian football elites by AFC and received a statue from this confederation. The club gave him a statue of his face and named him as one of the twelve great players of Persepolis in the 1970s.
He was named as one of the members of Persepolis Hall of Fame and the club thanked him for his great performance during his senior career at Persepolis.
Parvin was discovered while playing street football with neighborhood club Aref. After being scouted he joined Alborz FC, the reserve team of Kayan FC, where he would be called up very quickly.
Eventually, he made his way to Paykan F.C. and was one of the star players in the team in its short run in Iranian football. He moved to Persepolis FC as many other Paykan players did after the club was dissolved in 1970.
After the Iranian Revolution and during the Iran–Iraq War, Parvin was instrumental in helping the Persepolis club survive. By the end of his playing career, he was operating in a player/manager position. He retired from competitive football in 1988.
He played for the Iran national football team and was part of the Iranian Asian Cup winning squads of 1972 and 1976.
Parvin participated in the 1972 Munich Olympics and played in all three of Iran's matches. He also participated at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, again playing in all three of Iran's matches, and he scored in the group game against Poland.
He retired from international football after Iran's exit from the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, accumulating 76 appearances and 8 goals.
In 1989, Parvin became the Iranian national team manager. He had already gained experience managing Tehran powerhouse, Persepolis FC.
At first his popularity grew even more as the team won the 1990 Asian Games football gold medal, but early elimination from the 1992 Asian Cup and failure to qualify for World Cup 1994 cost him his job. In 1993, he was fired and replaced by Stanko Poklepovic.
Parvin later became the manager of Persepolis FC and helped the team to a number of league titles. He left the team briefly in the 2003–04 season but returned the year after as the technical director of the team.
After a poor start for Persepolis in the 2005–06 season, he again became the manager, only to leave at the end of the season due to the club's poor form.
Nasser Hejazi, 14 December 1949 – 23 May 2011, nicknamed "the legendary Iranian goalkeeper", was an Iranian football player and coach who most notably played for Esteghlal Tehran FC (Taj).
Considered as the best goalkeeper in the history of Iranian football and Asia, he was capped 62 times for the Iran national football team. In 2000, the Asian Football Confederation ranked him the second best Asian goalkeeper of the 20th century. He was definitely one of the greatest Iranian footballers in history.
Known as the "Eagle of Asia" for his soaring ability between the nets, Hejazi played for Iran in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, but he could have played for Manchester United if it was not because of the upheaval surrounding the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
After the World Cup, then-Manchester United manager Dave Sexton offered him a trial at the club and he even played in a reserve team match against Stoke City.
United were reportedly on the verge of signing him but due to the tumultuous situation back home, the Iranian Football Federation were unable to grant Hejazi permission in time to sign a contract with United and the club signed Gary Bailey, instead.
In 2011, Hejazi passed away, aged 61, after battling lung cancer. More than 20,000 people turned out in Tehran for the funeral of the legendary goalkeeper.
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As one of the best Iranian footballers of all time, Hassan Rowshan played as a striker. He was a football manager for a while too. Rowshan was born on the 2nd of June, 1955.
Rowshan is presently the head of technical committee of Esteghlal. He became an easily recognized name in Iran very soon. With his club, Taj Tehran, he won many championship and trophies.
Rowshan made his debut in the world of Iran’s football at the age of 17 by joining Taj youth club in the working-class area of south Tehran.
Rowshan won the Iranian league in 1975 and reached the second place in 1974, and won the Hazfi Cup in 1977.
The highlights of his career were winning the football tournament of the Asian Games in Tehran in 1974 and Asian Cup 1976 in Tehran as well as reaching the quarterfinals of the Summer Olympics in Montreal in 1976 and winning the qualification for the World Cup finals in Argentina 1978.
His “Brazilian style” of playing made him a national figure and he became the top goalscorer of any national team. His goals and assists made a significant contribution to the success of the team and eventual qualification.
As one of the best Iranian football players ever, his achievements did not come easy, as his constant runs and skills in maneuvering and dribbling made him a target for some rough tackles, he missed some games due to a serious and long lasting knee injury.