Ali Daei (Persian: علی دایی, pronounced [ʔæliː-je dɑːjiː]; born 21 March 1969 in Ardabil, Iran) is an Iranian retired football player and current coach. He is a former captain of the Iran national football team, and is the world’s all-time leading goalscorer in international matches. Daei as of June 2007 is also a member of the FIFA Football Committee. At the moment, Daei is the manager of the popular Iranian team Persepolis and signed a 18 month contract with the club in late December 2009.
Daei graduated from Sharif University of Technology in Materials Engineering (Metallurgical) with a B.Sc. degree. Born in Ardabil, he played for his hometown club, Esteqlal Ardabil, when he was 19. His next club was Taxirani F.C. in Tehran, where he played for one season, before joining another Tehrani club, Bank Tejarat FC. He stayed four years with Bank Tejarat, missing out on a chance to play in the J. League due to military service. Daei’s fame is attributed mostly to his renowned goal scoring ability. He managed to score frequently for his clubs, although due to the league schedule at the time he did not play many matches per season. His impressive performance at his club finally got results.
Move to Europe
After playing for a couple of minor league teams, Taxirani and Bank Tejarat, in 1994 Daiee joined one of country’s premier squads, Persepolis F.C. Following his impressive performance in Asian Cup in 1996 as Arminia Bielefeld joined the Bundesliga, they signed a contract with Daei and his fellow Iranian national team-mate Karim Bagheri. Ali Daei spent one season in Bielefeld and proved to be a successful franchise. He was hand picked for the Bayern Munich club by legendary footballer Franz Beckenbauer, president of the club, who rated him as a world-class centre-forward. He made a famous four million deutschemark move from Arminia Bielefeld to the four-time European Cup winners, which was a record for Asian players at the time. Daei also opened the door for Vahid Hashemian and Ali Karimi who became the second and third Iranians to join the Bavarians (Bayern Munich).
Daei became the first Asian player to feature in a UEFA Champions League match. Yet with Bayern’s 15 international players and the Iranian national team’s scheduling, Daei had found very little time for playing. In Germany he was known to be a true gentleman, famous for the way he treated the fans. Daei would always sign autographs to Bayern fans and was often the centre of attention, as he was featured in OPEL car commercials. Amazingly, he usually did manage to score when given a chance to play. Still, Ali Daei was unhappy with his position in the club and decided to make a move to Hertha BSC before the end of his three year contract, when Bayern won the championship title in the 1999 Bundesliga. In 2000 he played in the Champions League with Hertha BSC, becoming the team’s best scorer in the competition with 3 goals. His famous match against Chelsea gained him a lot of recognition. Yet even at Hertha he was not the talk of the town, since he was only amongst one of the squad’s many successful players, who were to fulfill Hertha’s Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League dreams.
Return to Asia
At the same time he was very successful in international competition scoring in practically every game and making new records. Daei was playing in numerous continental friendlies against world class opposition, yet was still unable to maintain a stable position in his club’s starting line-up. In 2001, he was not among the top scorers in the Asian Qualifying round and he did not manage to take the team into the World Cup as captain for the first time. After receiving offers from Rapid Vienna, Rangers, the J. League and a few English Premiership teams, he decided that he was no longer fit to play world-class football. He joined the UAE league at 34 years of age, signing a contract with Al-Shabab as a free agent. In 2003, Daei quit the UAE team and joined his old team in Tehran, Persepolis F.C. Daei moved from Persepolis to Saba Battery F.C. on a free transfer for a modest contract of around $300,000.
He spent two years at Saba Battery, scoring 23 goals, winning the Hazfi Cup and participating in the Asian Champions League. After World Cup 2006 and the arrival of Saba Battery’s new manager, Farhad Kazemi, it was announced that he was no longer needed on the team and his contract would not be renewed. Despite rumors of retirement, he signed for another industry-linked club from Tehran, Saipa F.C., on 1 August 2006.
On 6 March 2007, Ali Daei was fined $2000 and suspended for 4 games by the Iranian Football Federation after the incidents in a league game where he delivered a head-butt to the face of Sheys Rezaei, the young Persepolis defender. In an interview with the Iranian paper, Iran Varzeshi, Daei has criticized this decision and has threatened to take his case to FIFA head-quarters if the decision is upheld by the IFF.
On 28 May 2007, after Saipa won the Persian Gulf Cup (2006-2007) in a match vs Mes Kerman F.C., Daei announced his retirement from playing club football and that he would concentrate on his coaching career.
Daei was called up to join Team Melli on 6 June 1993 in an ECO Cup tournament held in Tehran, where he made his debut for Iran against Pakistan. He continued his national team appearances and was named the top scorer of the final Asian round of 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifications with 4 goals in 5 matches.
Daei was named the world’s top scorer in official international competitions by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS), having scored 20 goals in competitive matches for Iran in 1996, including his famous 4 goal haul against South Korea in Asian Cup 1996. By the end of the 1996 Asian Cup, he had scored 29 goals in 38 appearances for Iran. In the 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign, he was again on top of the charts, scoring 9 goals in 17 matches for Iran, reaching his impressive record of 38 goals in 52 appearances for his country. He is one of the most prolific strikers in the history of football and is now ranked first in most goals in international matches. His experience with world-class football opened the way for other Asian players such as Hidetoshi Nakata and Mehdi Mahdavikia.
Century of international goals
Ali Daei joined the exclusive circle of players with a century of caps. In a 28 November 2003 Asian Cup qualifier in Tehran against Lebanon, he scored his 85th international goal, elevating him past Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskás to top the all-time list of scorers in international matches. On 17 November 2004, he scored four goals against Laos in a World Cup qualifier, giving him 102 goals and making him the first male player to score 100 goals in international play. As of September 2009, he has 149 caps for Iran, ranked among the top 12 of world’s most capped players.
Asides from his great sportsmanship on the pitch, Daei ran many charitable organisations and used a great deal of his money in support of the less fortunate. Today Daei owns his own football jersey manufacturing company called Daei Sport’s Wears & Equipments, making sportswear for Iran sporting clubs in various fields and league clubs worldwide. His company also made jerseys for the national team. He has made very significant charitable donations and has made appearances in charitable football matches worldwide (featuring in the World vs. Bosnia match with Roberto Baggio and other football legends). He also appeared in a UNICEF commercial with superstar David Beckham and Madeleine Albright, and has regularly been seen working with the organisation. He is also very famous for being a “gentleman”, the name which was given to him even in Germany where he used to play, because of his moderate behaviour.
Daei featured on 18 July 2007 in 90 Minutes for Mandela, a match between the Africa XI and the Rest of World XI to celebrate the birthday of Nelson Mandela. Daei played approximately 10 minutes in the match which ended 3–3.
Besides his footballing career, Ali Daei also owns Daei Sport, his company provides clothing for several Iranian football clubs and previously for the Iran national football team. In 2005, he married a former classmate from Sharif University in a lavish ceremony in north of Tehran in which many of his fans were standing in the nearby streets to cheer him. Some of the photos of his wedding ceremony were later published without his permission that caused a controversy inside the country. He has funded a sports complex in his home city of Ardabil called the Ali Daei Sports Complex that opened in May 2008
On 7 April 2008, Daei announced that he has begun writing an autobiography set to be released in March 2010 and that despite reflecting on “bitter and sweet memories” he stated he would “keep some of his secrets in his heart forever”.