Persianfootball.com – MANSFIELD, Dara Zarandi conducted an exclusive interview with 24-year-old League 2 defender Ryan Tafazolli of Mansfield Town, which you can read below.
Persianfootball.com: Ryan, thank you for taking the time to sit down and speak with me. When did you start playing football? What position did you play? I know you’re a center back but are you comfortable playing any other positions?
Ryan Tafazolli: I started playing at a very young age. I started playing for Southampton’s youth teams when I was 12 years old. I was always a central midfielder growing up and I always had a height advantage over other players. In Southampton they noticed my physique would be very well suited for a defender so they slowly started to use me in that position more. I played for Southampton up until the U18’s and was eventually named the captain of the squad.
PFDC: You played for Southampton’s youth teams, which has produced some big names in football (such as Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Calum Chambers, etc.) – what was that experience like? What brought you to Mansfield Town?
RT: Southampton youth team used to have a house for the younger players and we would spend time there and got real close. Alex Oxdale Chamberlain, Calum Chambers, Luke Shaw were some big names I played with so there was definitely lots of talent. I still keep in touch with them as much as possible. Allen Pardew at Southampton gave me my pro contract, but shortly after a new manager came in and did things differently and a lot of players left. I wanted to play first team football so I went to Mansfield Town because I knew I would be able to play.
PFDC: How would you describe the level of League Two’s football?
RT: Everyone is in really good physical shape. Players are not as technically gifted in comparison to the leagues of Spain for example, but the physical condition of the players is extremely high. You don’t get any time on the ball as a defender, you must be able to think and act very quickly. It is definitely a competitive league, much higher than I think some would expect.
PFDC: Mansfield Town had a very rough season last year finishing in 21st place just two spots above the relegation zone. How did being in such a tough situation impact you as a player and what did you do to bounce back from that this season?
RT: It’s tough; you get accustomed to losing which is an awful feeling to have. However, being in a tough situation like that with your back against the wall ultimately makes us a lot mentally stronger since we were able to get back up on our feet. The manager wanted to change a lot of things after last year and he did so by switching a lot of players – the squad is almost entirely new this season aside from myself and several other players. He brought in better players and I think they will compete for promotion next year.
PFDC: You seem to be in good form at the moment and I know that there has been interest from bigger teams competing at higher levels such as Dundee United and Sheffield United. Being that your contract will run out at the end of this season, what do you think your next move will be? Do you have aspirations to play at a higher level like perhaps the Championship?
RT: Yes, I definitely do. Wherever I go next season I want to play, that is something I have made clear to my agent. A top end League One team that will likely be fighting for promotion to the Championship where I know I’m going to be playing every week would be an ideal situation for myself.
PFDC: How familiar are you with Iran and the culture? Have you been to Iran before? Do you speak Farsi?
RT: My dad is often in Iran because a lot of my family lives in Iran. Normally when I meet my family I have seen them in Dubai. I haven’t had a chance to go to Iran just because of poor timing of my schedule and my family’s. I would definitely like to go there in the future and see where my family lives and see what the culture is like over there. I do not speak Farsi unfortunately but I am around it a lot when I’m in London with my father. He watches Iranian TV and Iranian football so I try to familiarize myself a bit with the culture and language through him and my family.
PFDC: How closely do you follow Iranian football? What do you know about Team Meli (famous players, coaches, etc.)
RT: I know Carlos Queiroz of course; he is a very big name in world football. Iranian football isn’t shown in England at all so I don’t really watch matches. During World Cups I watch the matches and my family and I get together and watch the Iranian national team games. My father is a huge fan. Iran played a phenomenal game against Argentina – in particular the left back (Mehrdad Pooladi), he was outstanding. He looked like he was more than capable of playing in the top leagues in Europe which shows how good Iranian players are. Growing up my dad used to talk about Ali Daie and Khodad Azizi a lot, I know both had a lot of success in Germany and for Iran, especially Ali Daie being the all-time leading goal scorer in international goals. I also know of ex Fulham midfielder Ashkan Dejagah and Andranik Teymourian from his days in Bolton.
PFDC: I noticed a fan recently tweeted you asking if you’d accept a call up to the Iranian National Team if Carlos Queiroz extended the invitation to you to which you responded “definitely”. Could you talk about why you want to represent Iran and how you think you can contribute to Team Meli?
RT: First off, it would make my family so proud. It would be an honor to play for a football loving nation like Iran and at the same time serve my country of heritage. Playing under Carlos Queiroz would also be a dream – he has coached some of the best players in the world. I’m a physical center back and standing at 6’5 I can offer them a tough backbone that you develop growing up in England. To get called up I know I need to play at a higher level, perhaps league 1/championship being the minimum so hopefully when I make it there I’ve got a chance. I can also score a lot of goals for a defender as well. Playing for Iran would be amazing.
PFDC: Carlos Queiroz has shown in the past that he is more than willing to give Iranians abroad an opportunity with the national team. Ashkan Dejagah, Reza Ghoochannejhad, Daniel Davari, and Steven Beitashour were all a part of his 2014 World Cup team – all of which started their careers in outside of Iran. What do you think separates the game in Europe from other places in the world and how do you think it can give you an edge if you’re called up?
RT: I think in Europe the game is definitely more physical, especially in England. Country to country the game is different. Playing in England you sort of become mentally stronger and you’ve got to be in great physical shape whereas in a place like Spain the game is much more technical. I think I’ll have an edge on players in Asia in that respect given the toughness that’s instilled in players over here. Also I am left footed which is another bow to add to my string, another bonus.
PFDC: There has recently been a wave of younger players in Iran aspiring to play in top European leagues and citing Carlos Queiroz as being an influencer, basically implying that a move to a better team in a better league than the IPL will increase their chances of a call up or becoming a consistent part of the squad. Will this influence your decision in the coming months when you are negotiating with teams?
RT: Absolutely. For me now at 24, I want to play at the highest level possible. I want to become the best football player I can. It’s all about self – development and if I can do that successfully playing consistently every week, the rest will take care of itself. I’m extremely enthusiastic about the idea of having the opportunity to play for Iran so whatever will give me that opportunity and put me in a situation to grow as a player is exactly what I will look to do.
PFDC: Iran has been drawn into group A in Asian World Cup qualifying alongside South Korea, Uzbekistan, Qatar, China, and Syria. What are your thoughts on Iran’s opponents and how do you think Iran will fare against these teams?
RT: Iran is obviously at an advantage being ranked #1 in Asia. That should give players a lot of motivation and belief that they’ll do well in the qualification campaign. I definitely see them qualifying – with the manager they’ve got it would be hard to say they wouldn’t qualify. As a national side they’ve improved a lot over the years
PFDC: Have you ever considered playing in Iran? Would you like to play there one day?
RT: I have been contacted by several Iranian agents over the years who have tried to bring me over there and they’ve spoken very highly of the league. I know football in Iran competitive so I would definitely be open to that later on in my career. For now I want to focus on making the best possible move that will help me get to the next level.