Guardian – TEHRAN, In An Interview with Guardian Ashkan said, “Germany had a lot coming through, a new generation, so that was a hard situation for me but I’d always had the option to play for Iran. Both my parents are Iranian. My wife, like me, is Iranian but brought up in Germany, so we all spoke and I followed my heart. I was born in Tehran. I have a lot of family there”.
He added, “I still count Iran and Germany as ‘my countries’, but I’m proud to represent Iran: a beautiful country whose fans love football.Sometimes people – team-mates, friends – ask me: ‘How is it there?’ I can just say it’s a nice country with nice people. Other things, I don’t want to speak about”.
He continued, “Other things … I go there to play football, to see my family, to represent my country. That is what I know. I’m proud to play for Iran but a lot of people see just the negatives, the things that are reported in the news. That’s why they’re scared a bit about Iran. I can just say the Iranian people are very nice, and it’s my country.”
That represents the extent to which Dejagah is prepared to dip into politics, his caution an acknowledgement Iran – where he established his career – is still considered a pariah state by the west. His reticence is understandable.
It is seven years since he pulled out of a trip to Tel Aviv with Germany’s Under-21s, a decision accepted by the coaching hierarchy and born of concern at potential reprisals on his family in Iran, whose government have not recognised Israel since the 1979 December Revolution.
Iranian athletes have invented mysterious ailments to swerve similar dilemmas over the years, with Dejagah guilty most obviously of being too honest. Yet his withdrawal drew stinging criticism from Germany’s Central Council of Jews and politicians in his adopted country.
Recollection prompts a shudder of apprehension. “This was a long time ago,” he says. “It is in the past. Yes, it helped me grow up but now I only look to the future.”
That future, beyond the culmination of the English domestic season, is a World Cup in Brazil where Iran, ranked 37 by Fifa and under Carlos Queiroz’s stewardship, will attempt to unsettle Argentina, the Africa Cup of Nations champions Nigeria and the newcomers, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Team Melli” have added talent from the Iranian diaspora to their squad – Dejagah, Daniel Davari, Reza Ghoochannejhad and Steven Beitashour, born in San Jose, California and currently with Vancouver Whitecaps – with Queiroz having called in his contacts to secure friendlies with Belarus, Montenegro and Angola as preparation next month.
“I know it’s not easy to take friendly games with Iran but Queiroz has experience,” says Dejagah, who scored twice on debut against Qatar. “That’s why he can arrange these games. It’s an unbelievable thing for Iran, to be in Brazil.
“The whole country is proud, even if we felt obliged to qualify. We had 100,000 people in the national stadium screaming for us, and we are the second best team in Asia after Japan. But at the tournament itself, no pressure. We can go there and just play. If we get into the next round, it’ll be the first time for Iran. Argentina will go through as group winners, but against Nigeria and Bosnia we have a chance. Why not? We have a talented team.
“I know there are not as many Iranians playing in ‘big’ leagues now, particularly in the Bundesliga. There is Reza [at Charlton] also here but it’s hard for our younger players to make names for themselves. I was luckier, growing up in Germany, but not many scouts go to Iran to watch games. Maybe they come from teams in Dubai or Qatar but you need a lot of luck to be spotted and given an opportunity by a European team. That’s why I hope, in this World Cup, our players show the world how good they are.”
ps; This post is modified to concentrate on Team Melli and Iran issues.