Iran’s Sardar Azmoun will be perhaps one of the lesser known quantities at this summer’s World Cup in Russia, although that is unlikely to remain the case for long.
Referred to by the press as the “Iranian Messi”, the youngster, himself, prefers to be compared to former Sweden icon Zlatan Ibrahimovic, thanks to a rare aerial prowess developed during a childhood playing both football and volleyball.
The 23-year-old forward, who plays his club football in the host country for Rubin Kazan, is so highly rated back home that supporters are expecting him to become Iran’s most successful player ever.
Touted as the successor to legendary Team Melli’s all-time top goalscorer, Ali Daei, Azmoun carries the hopes of a nation on his shoulders ahead of a tough group stage line-up, consisting of Morocco, Spain and Portugal.
To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.
Who is he?
Azmoun, who was born in Gonbad-e Kavus in Iran, joined Rubin Kazan from Sepahan in his homeland and was loaned to Rostov before joining them permanently in 2016.
Rostov activated a buy-out clause in Azmoun’s contract, and despite a legal challenge from with Rubin Kazan, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that he was Rostov’s player.
However, despite his fractious departure, he would return to Rubin Kazan in the summer of 2017. This season he has scored five goals in 26 Russian Premier League appearances for Volzháne.
What is his international experience/record?
Having been capped 33 times by his country, scoring 23 goals, Azmoun is now going some way towards justifying links with Ali Daei. Already, he finds himself among the top five of Iran’s all-time goalscorers.
Showing a knack for scoring crucial goals in big games, he recorded the only strike in the home win over South Korea last October that underlined Iran’s position as favourites to qualify for the World Cup finals.
While he has impressed at club level, some of his best form has been for his country, with a run of impressive goals during Carlos Queiroz’s side’s unbeaten qualifying run for the 2018 World Cup.
Why will he be a breakout World Cup star?
Azmoun has emerged as one of the most exciting forwards currently playing in Europe and, despite his youth, he has a great deal of experience, having played several seasons of Russian top flight football while appearing in both the Europa League and Champions League.
“He has all the qualities to succeed at the highest level,” Iran coach Queiroz told ESPN FC in 2015. “He is improving all the time. He has to keep his feet on the ground, work hard and make the right decisions. If so, he could be a real star of Iranian and Asian football for years to come.”
Just two years later and the 23-year-old has emerged as a key player for Iran and perhaps his nation’s key hope ahead of the summer competition in a nation all so familiar to him.
What is his future after the World Cup?
According to The Guardian, Azmoun has been linked with several Premier League clubs, Everton and Stoke City among them, having impressed for the Russian club since a controversial move from Rubin Kazan.
Bleacher Report continue to suggest that Azmoun’s most likely chance of him moving to England would be a switch to Leicester City, Everton or Wolverhampton Wanderers —with the latter seeming the most likely.
There is also a suggestion that Celtic could also emerge as serious competitors for the Iran star, which goes hand-in-hand with recent reports by The Scotsman.
The 23-year-old will be a key player for his country at the World Cup in Russia this summer and good showings against group rivals Portugal and Spain will undoubtedly increase his profile.
Currently yet to prove himself outside of the Russian Premier League, this summer could be Azmoun’s golden opportunity to test himself against the game’s elite on his biggest stage yet.
Perhaps being away from the focus of Europe’s top five leagues has helped to alleviate some of the pressure or sense of expectation that may otherwise have overwhelmed him.
To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.
Fiorentina links to Liam Henderson highlight massive £115k error by Celtic
Celtic sold the midfielder to Bari in January.
Bari midfielder Liam Henderson is the target of a £2 million bid from Italian side Fiorentina, according to reports. The Scotsman claims the attacking midfielder is wanted by La Viola, with Parma and Bologna also keeping tabs on his situation.
The news will certainly interest Celtic fans. Henderson came through the ranks at Parkhead. After nearly ten years at the club, however, he decided to move on permanently in January, with his chances at Celtic seeming minimal.
It was a shame in the eyes of many Celtic fans. The midfielder had impressed during loan spells at Rosenborg and Hibernian and always looked a talent when playing for Celtic. The fee involved was even more shocking. With his contract expiring in the summer Celtic sold him to Bari for just £115,000.
He then went on to become a regular for the Serie B side, scoring twice and bagging two assists in 18 appearances.
The fact Fiorentina are now looking to pay £2 million for the player will justify the comments of those who said Celtic should have given him more chances and a new deal this season.
With Stuart Armstrong now said to be considering his own future in Glasgow, Henderson could have been a great internal replacement. Just look at the progression of Callum McGregor. Henderson could have been on a par with the current Celtic star.
Celtic will no doubt be ruing the way they handled Henderson’s situation as one of Italian football’s biggest clubs come swooping in.
Celtic round-up: Odsonne Edouard deal close, club hold talks with Sean Clare
A round-up of the day’s most interesting news surrounding Celtic.
Close on striker
Celtic are reportedly “progressing” with talks regarding a permanent deal for Paris Saint Germain striker Odsonne Edouard, but there’s “work to be done” according to a BBC Sport.
The 20-year-old spent last season on loan at Celtic from Paris St-Germain, scoring an impressive 11 goals and bagging 4 assists in 29 appearances. And Brendan Rodgers has decided he wants to land the Frenchman on a permanent basis.
The reports claim the French giants are after a hefty fee though, with the asking price in excess of £8 million.
Talks for midfielder
Celtic’s business doesn’t end there either. The club has reportedly held talks with Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Sean Clare, according to TeamTalk. Although they are facing stiff competition for the his signature.
And Rangers are among the 14 clubs courting the player this summer. However, the player is said to be keen on the idea of linking up with Brendan Rodgers, as his track-record of developing talent is seriously impressive – with Kieran Tierney, Moussa Dembele and Callum McGregor being the most recent examples.
The midfielder played 31 times last season, bagging two goals and three assists.
Former Hoop on the move
Former Celtic right-back Saidy Janko is a target for Portuguese champions Porto this summer, according to French newspaper L’Equipe.
The 22-year-old left Parkhead last summer to sign a four-year deal with Ligue 1 outfit Saint-Etienne, and his performances seem to have caught the attention of the Portuguese heavyweights
The ex-Manchester United man originally joined Celtic in 2015, but failed to establish himself as a first-team regular due to regular issues with injuries and a number of shaky performances.
Celtic round-up: Jack Marriot tops wish-list, Rodgers out of race for Chancel Mbemba
The day’s most interesting stories surrounding Celtic.
Celtic are seemingly in the clear to land Peterborough striker Jack Marriott, after the Posh slapped a hefty £5 million price-tag on his services, according to reports from the Sun.
Rangers have cooled their interest over the forward, despite their obvious need for attacking reinforcements, as the price is said to be too high to bring Marriott to Ibrox this summer. Celtic however, are still keen on bringing the 23-year-old to Parkhead and will continue plotting their impending move.
The forward has garnered attention from the defending Scottish champions, after netting an impressive 27 goals in 44 appearances for the League One outfit since joining last year.
Defender pursuit off
Brendan Rodgers is likely to pull out of negotiations for Newcastle United defender Chancel Mbemba, as the Congolese international looks to be heading to Portuguese giants Porto this summer, according to reports from HLN.
Porto won the Portuguese Primeira Liga this past season and will play in the Champions League during the 2017/18 campaign – attracting the defender to choose Portugal over Scotland.
The former Anderlecht man suffered a turbulent time at Newcastle after joining in 2015, but, at 23, has time on his side and possesses the natural talent to become a very good centre-half in the near future.
In for midfielder
Celtic are planning on rivalling Aston Villa for the signature of Hibs’ midfielder John McGuinn, according to reports from the Daily Record.
Former Celtic boss Neil Lennon has placed a £5 million asking fee on the 23-year-old, who has recieved nine caps for international side Scotland since making his debut in 2016.
He caught the attention of Rodgers after bagging six goals and eight assists in 43 appearances last term, despite plying his trade predominantly from midfield. His arrival could also signify the departure of Ebou Kouassi who is looking for regular game-time, according to the Sun.
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