Pasha: Hello everyone! Thank you for listening to Gol Bezan once again! We have a very special person on the podcast with us tonight who we’re honored to be having this interview with, and that is Ali Gholizadeh. Happy Nowrouz Ali and thank you for coming on our podcast!
Ali: Hello everyone, Happy Nowrouz to you and to all those listening to this podcast as well. Hopefully we will all have a good year ahead of us, whether in Iran or abroad. Thanks for having me on the podcast.
Pasha: Thank you Ali. Tell us about your experiences in Belgium. How do you like it there? Have you settled in well?
Ali: Yeah, it was a bit hard the first 2-3 months, but everything is good now. Of course, the language is also hard to learn, as they speak French here, but thank God, everything is fine. Hopefully it will get even better.
Pasha: I was in Iran last summer at Saipa FC’s training session, and everyone was talking about you. They said you would have a great career ahead of you for Iranian football. My question for you is, do you think you would have had the same opportunity for success given to you by Ali Daei at Saipa FC, had you played for a different club team?
Ali: Yeah, I had a great season with Saipa last year led by Mr. Daei. It was a great season both for me and for the whole team. We got some good results, despite a few mistakes towards the end of the season, such as a penalty that I missed myself. We finished 4th in the league, but had we not made those few mistakes at the end of the season, I think we might have finished even higher. But overall, it was a good season for me especially. Mr. Daei put a lot of trust and confidence in me, and he allowed me the freedom to show my skills in the Iranian league. I will never forget the support that he gave me. I’m also thankful to Mr. Saadati for helping to bring me to Belgium where I am now at the service of Charleroi. But everyone knows, I am not the only one whom Ali Daei has helped on their path to success. I’ve also had great coaches throughout the years whom I also thankful for, especially Mr. Daei. The trust he put in me really helped me, and as you know, there are tons of footballing talents in Iran waiting to be discovered. If given the opportunities, I think there are many other talented players in Iran waiting to be discovered just like myself, and I hope that this happens.
Pasha: Ali you are 100% correct about the hidden talents in Iran. I wanted to ask you about Mr. Ali Daei again. If you had played for a different club instead of Saipa, do you think that other coaches would have given you the same opportunities Ali Daei gave you?
Ali: Well, I can’t really say as I haven’t experienced this, having played for Saipa from a young age. I was in Saipa when I first started football, and I made it to the national team while I was at Saipa. Saipa is like a family to me, it’s the club that has helped me get to where I am today, and I’m very thankful to everyone at Saipa who helped me get here. But, I think the window of opportunity is still open in other clubs as well, and we can see this in players such as Younes Delfi, who has recently joined me here, or Mohammad Naderi, or Omid Noorafkan. These are all players who are at the same level as me and are playing here in Belgium. If they didn’t get any opportunities, then they wouldn’t be here right now. I can’t really give a strong answer since I’ve been with Saipa all my life, but I’m sure that with the great coaches we have in Iran, the talents would be helped on their road to success, rather than hindered. I hope this trend continues, and that coaches let their players succeed and reach their goals.
Pasha: Exactly. Ali, you have a lot of supporters by the way! We’ve gotten a lot of questions for you from Twitter. We have a question from Shervin, who is wondering if Carlos Queiroz influenced your decision to play in Europe, or if it was something you’ve always wanted to do.
Ali: When I was 17, I had an offer from the Netherlands after some impressive performances with the Iranian national team in Myanmar. Due to some complications however, I was unable to make the move to the Netherlands back then. But even back then, Mr. Saadati would always tell me that I had to go play in Europe and get familiar with other cultures and other football. Even now that I’m here, he always pushes me to improve and he encourages not just me, but every other player who he works with. They will all tell you the same thing. As for Mr. Queiroz, he didn’t force me to go to Europe. I had many offers and I eventually ended up in Belgium after the end of the season. This was very beneficial for me. I was able to establish myself in a European team and show what I was capable of in a different environment with a different footballing culture and style. It was very beneficial to me and the Iranian National Team staff were also very pleased with my progress. They didn’t tell me directly to go to Europe, but when they see that a player has the passion, drive, and skill to make the switch to a European league, then they will without a doubt support that player, whoever that may be. All of my coaches always encouraged me to transfer to Europe if the opportunity came up.
Pasha: I completely agree with them. You are truly a talented player Ali. Now, before I ask some questions about the national team, I want to ask some more questions about your current club team. We have another question from one of our twitter users. He’s asking what the difference is between the footballing culture of Belgium compared to that in Iran. He’s also asking what you’ve learned in Europe while you were establishing yourself in Belgium.
Ali: Well, for one, the Belgian league is much more physical than the Iranian league. The games are also faster paced. However, let me mention that in Iran, since our fields and pitches aren’t of the best quality, it somewhat slows down the pace of the game. Many of the injuries in our league are due to this poor pitch quality. Believe me when I say that our league would be much, much better if we had better fields. The talent is clearly there, but unfortunately, the opportunity and resources are not. The Belgian league has much better resources at their disposable, and things are a lot more organized here. I’m always impressed by how organized and disciplined everyone is over here. This in itself is also another advantage of the Belgian league. I can say that the Belgian league is at least 10 to 20 times more organized as the Iranian league, and this is gap in quality between the two.
Pasha: The next question we have for you Ali, is about another player who has recently joined your club, and that is Younes Delfi. I believe that both of you will become great players for the Iranian National Team. It’s a great feeling seeing two Iranian players on the same team in Belgium bringing pride to our country. Tell us a bit about Delfi.
Ali: Younes Delfi, as I’m sure you know, is one of the prime examples of the talent we have in Iran. A player has to have a lot of skill to be able to put up a good performance in his first European match at 17 years old like Delfi did. I hope he keeps up the good work. I’m glad to have him on the team, he’s a great kid and a good friend. I don’t think I even need to comment on his skill, he’s great as you all know. I hope he keeps up the good work and reaches all his goals.
Pasha: Another question I have for you is about your relations with Mehdi Bayat. He is Iranian too of course, so some of our listeners were wondering what kind of relationship you two have.
Ali: He’s such a great man. He has a lot of respect for every single player on the team, not just me. He is very understanding with the players, and I’m not just saying this because we are both Iranian. He puts a lot of time and effort for every single player no matter where they’re from and does all he can to help us. However, it’s still great to have that Iranian connection as well. I’m very grateful to him for all he has done in order to create an environment for us where all our needs are met and we can put our entire focus on football.
Pasha: I want to talk to you a bit about the national team now, and especially about a well-respected individual that I’ve grown very close with over these past 8 years, and that is Mr. Carlos Queiroz. He’d created an environment where everyone in the national team were like family, and he was a sort of father figure. Tell me more about him. What would he talk with the players about? I remember Alireza Beiranvand said in his interview that Queiroz was like a psychologist in a way.
Ali: Yes, this is exactly true! I can’t say enough about him! He’s very well-known and respected by everyone. A great man with experience in teams like Manchester United, everyone knows about it, I don’t think I even need to explain. He was exactly the way Alireza Beiranvand described, a brilliant psychologist. He knew exactly how to treat the players and had created a very close and tight knit team over these years. I had only been with the team for 1 year, but even after one day, you really felt like a part of the team. It felt exactly like you were with your family. That’s how close everyone was, and this all goes back to the discipline and organization instilled in the team captains by Queiroz, who then relayed this all down to the rest of the team. No one was left feeling alone or left out. He was quite a charismatic character; I don’t know exactly how to explain it. He would instill hope and desire in each player in such a way that if you were at 70, you would come up to 100, you get what I mean? The things he would say to the players and the trust that he’d put in them were just so uplifting. There was not a single player on the team that he didn’t believe in. If you were there, it was because Carlos Queiroz saw something in you and believed in you.
Pasha: Ali, I saw a picture of you with Carlos Queiroz in your last encounter. What was he saying to you in that moment, when you knew he was going to leave Iran? What was he saying to the rest of the players for their future? I really feel like this man has done such a great service to Iranian football.
Ali: Yes, exactly. His services to Iranian football and the legacy he’s left behind are truly outstanding. The prestige and respect he’s brought to our national team has just taken us on a whole other level. The day I was cut from the national team due to my injury, I was devastated. I talked with Carlos about the player who injured me, and he jokingly told me to nutmeg the player who injured me on his behalf, and to tell the player that it was for getting me injured. He also wished me good luck and gave me a lot of hope for the future. He had also promised to take me to the Asian Cup final had we made it that far, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen. It just goes to show how much he cared for every player. Not every coach would do that. I didn’t even feel like I was an injured player the way he treated me. The hope he would instill in me helped me get back on my feet and continue from where I left off. I really can’t say enough good things about him, I could go on for hours about Carlos Queiroz and still have things left to say.
Pasha: Ali, it’s really a pleasure to have you on the podcast, thank you for your time once again. We have a few more questions for you. I’ve been following you very closely since your time at Saipa and was proud of your performances in Charleroi, and just like you I was devastated when you were injured and cut from the Iranian Asian Cup squad. What are your future goals now for the national team?
Ali: Well for now, myself and the rest of the national team players are waiting to see who the new head coach will be. It’s honestly a shame that our national team doesn’t have a head coach yet, as we are missing some valuable FIFA days where we could be playing friendlies and gaining experience. It has a negative impact on the players, and the image of Iranian football as a whole. All these aside though, I’m hoping that whoever takes charge will be worthy to fill in Mr. Queiroz’s shoes and help the national team. As for myself, I will do all that I can to improve myself in order to go to the next level and reach my goals. It’s every players’ dream to play for their national team, and I hope that I will also successfully continue my national team career.
Pasha: Another question I have for you Ali, is your teammates view of Iran and Iranian football. With you and Younes Delfi in the team, what do you tell your teammates about Iranian culture and whatnot?
Ali: We have a lot of conversations about nationality, the role of football, the role of culture, etc., but mostly we talk about the individual national team players here. For example, we got good news today about Saeid Ezatolahi. All the players kept asking me if it was true that Ezatolahi had gotten an offer from a Portuguese team. In fact, we even have a Portuguese player on our team who was very keen on knowing as well. He said that “Ezatolahi is a great player no doubt if he has an offer from a team of my country”. During the World Cup, when I returned to Belgium, they would all talk to me about the World Cup. They all seemed happy that Iran was present at the World Cup. And the thing is, many people think that Iran is a weak footballing country, but when they actually take the time to see for themselves, they will see that the truth is quite the contrary. Just look at Kaveh Rezaei for example. The waves he put in motion in Belgium caused a whole country to change their view on Iranian football. Belgium was a country that didn’t really give offers to Iranian players. However, after Kaveh’s brilliant performances in the league, more Belgian clubs started looking at Iranian players. When they see our performances in the league, their opinion on Iranian football completely changes. They assume that Iran has weak players just because they are not talked about often.
Pasha: And that’s exactly our goal with Gol Bezan. Most of our podcasts are in English, and we hope that we can serve as a platform to make Iranian football more known around the world. Now we have two more questions for you, Ali. The first one is about your future goals. What league do you ultimately hope to play in?
Ali: For now, all my focus is here in Belgium, but my dream as a little kid was to play in the Spanish La Liga. Like others in my generation, I grew up watching Messi and Ronaldo play in the Spanish league, and it really made me fall in love with that league. It’s one of my dreams to play in Spain and I think that its an achievable goal. God willing, I will be able to get there with hard work and concentration.
Pasha: Now on to our last question for you Ali. We have a lot of young players playing in European leagues, such as yourself, Saeid Ezatolahi, Sardar Azmoun, and Alireza Jahanbakhsh. What would you tell other young players who are thinking of transferring to European leagues but are a little iffy and skeptical?
Ali: In my opinion, we in Iran have made a giant out of European leagues in our mind. We think that European leagues are extraordinary and that their players are amazing and way above us in terms of skill and talent. Now don’t get me wrong; European leagues are very strong and develop amazing, world class players. But what Iranian players have to realize is that we’re no less than them. We have all the skills and talent necessary to compete with them in these leagues, and we’ve proven this. We have Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who is playing in the English Premier League. We have Sardar Azmoun who is scoring and assisting goals at the highest level against some of the best teams in Europe. It’s not impossible or too hard for us Iranians to be successful in these leagues. We have nothing less than them, and in some cases, our players are even more talented than theirs. We just have to work hard and show them what we got. That’s all.
Pasha: Sorry for keeping you Ali, but we have just one last question for you.
Ali: No worries, go ahead and ask.
Pasha: What was the reason you’ve never wanted to give interviews before? Did it have to do with the way reporters in Iran ask questions? Some players say that they cause unnecessary drama.
Ali: I hadn’t given any interviews in Iran before I came to Belgium, excluding some short interviews when I was the national team at the request of the national team staff. If they instructed me to go give an interview, then I would do it, but otherwise, I would not. As you know, there can be some unnecessary drama depending on what you say and don’t say. If you stay away from it though, you’re more likely to avoid the drama and stress that comes with it. Interviews in Iran can sometimes cause unnecessary drama as you mentioned. You might say one thing and it could be interpreted in hundreds of different ways by all the football fans and analysts in Iran. Two people might interpret what you say in one way, and two other people in a different way, and so on, and this can cause drama. If I avoid interviews altogether and focus on my actions on the pitch, that gives enough answers in itself. I’m not trying to be disrespectful to the players who do give interviews or anything. My own opinion however, is that my actions on the pitch will be worth more than any words I can say in an interview.
Pasha: Thank you Ali, do you have any last comments you would like to make or any message you would like to give to our listeners?
Ali: I’m very pleased to have talked with you, I think it was a great interview. I want to thank you, and all your listeners and everyone who submitted questions. I want to thank all of you. I hope you all have a happy Persian New Year. God willing it will be a good year for everyone, especially for yourself. Once again, I’m very happy to have had this interview with you, and it’s been a great night!
Pasha: Thank you for everything Ali. We will always support you, and we hope that you can achieve all your goals.
Ali: Thank you for your kind words. Thank you for everything.
Translation By: Kian Bonakdar
Link to actual interview: https://soundcloud.com/gol-bezan/ali-gholizadeh (available on itunes as well)