Scouting World Cup Stars: Saeid Ezatolahi

Saeid Ezatolahi was brought up in a footballing hot bed. Originating from the North Iranian town of Bandar Anzali, the dynamic midfielder was always destined to play professionally. His father and uncle both played for Iranian club Malavan, one of the most famous teams in the country. The footballing seed was sewn early and his dream was to upkeep the family tradition of making it big, but the now 21-year-old had set his sights higher.

In 2010, the Iranian signed for the Malavan youth academy and only had to wait two years for his first team debut. Impressing from an early age, his first professional appearance in October 2012 was his first slice of history, becoming the Iranian Pro
League’s youngest ever player at just over sixteen years old. In 2013, he was named the Young Player of the Season by the Iranian Football Federation and continued to excel at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup, utilizing the platforms on offer to blast
himself into the spotlight. It worked, countless European teams grew interested and enquiries began to stack up.

Whilst his stock was on the rise, Ezatolahi only featured for a measly 113 minutes in the 2013/14 season, 261 down from his breakthrough season the previous year, despite gaining the nickname of the Persian Pogba. Offers from Iranian clubs came flooding in, but Europe beckoned for Ezatolahi who seemed to be in a rush to make it big. In August 2014, the midfielder signed a one-year contract with Atletico Madrid, playing for the reserve teams. The Iranian impressed with his performances both competitively and in training, with his work ethic getting the thumbs up from Atlético manager Diego Simeone in 2015 when he was promoted to train with the senior side. This came after making his debut in the UEFA Youth League, featuring for the full ninety minutes against Chelsea in a 2-0 away loss in the Quarterfinals having not featured at all in previous rounds. His rank in the Atlético hierarchy was improving, soon making his debut for the C team which drew interest from other La Liga clubs but Atletico acted to stop competitors sniffing around a now prized asset. The Madrid club offered him a contract to join their B team and continue sporadically training with the senior squad but Ezatolahi wanted to make it big and he wanted it to happen now.

In July 2015, Ezatolahi joined fellow Iranian Sardar Azmoun at Russian club FC Rostov but visa issues meant a long spell on the sidelines was imminent for the youngster. Seven months after he joined Rostov, he was to make his debut in a friendly against Chinese opposition and further friendlies were used to regain fitness and match sharpness amid the Russian winter break.

Unfortunately for Ezatolahi, his debut season for Rostov saw him claim only eight minutes of competitive game time in one appearance. Despite scoring FC Rostov’s first ever European goal and becoming the first Iranian to score in the Champions League in a third round qualifying tie against Anderlecht, he was to be sent on two loan spells in Russia in two seasons, with both Anzhi Makhachkala and Amkar Perm respectively.

Struggling for minutes at club level, Ezatolahi has never failed to impose himself on the international scene. He became Iran’s youngest ever goalscorer when he netted against Turkmenistan in November 2015, his only goal for his country to date. Ezatolahi has played 1736 minutes for his country, only 687 minutes less than he has managed to play at club level since his move away from the Iranian leagues. With his most potent skills being ball winning and dribbling, moving the ball forward on the counter attack at pace, Ezatolahi could be the man to drive Iran forward from the middle of the pitch.

By: Elliott Martin