Meet Sardar Azmoun: Who is Zenit’s Iranian Prince?

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1,407 views – ST. PETERSBURG, Last season Sardar Azmoun exploded to the top of the Russian Premier Liga’s goalscoring charts in his most productive campaign since arriving nearly eight years ago. Very few forwards have the natural penalty box instinct of the young Iranian, but his path to the very top has not been quite as smooth as one might imagine. We have taken a look at the man behind the numbers.

The story so far

Despite still only being 25 years of age, Sardar Azmoun has already achieved a considerable amount as he enters his peak years. Having scored over a goal per game for Iran’s youth sides, he has already racked up 31 goals in just 48 matches for the senior side after being handed his debut at 19 by Carlos Quieroz. In his first full season at Zenit St. Petersburg, he won the domestic treble of RPL title, Russian Cup and the Russian Super Cup. Before pulling on the Blue-White-Sky Blue shirt for the first time in January 2019, however, he had only scored less than a goal every three games.

As an intrepid teenager, he left his homeland to join Rubin Kazan amidst interest from a few European clubs despite never having made a senior appearance. His journey in football began almost a decade earlier, when a family holiday to Turkmenistan to visit relatives made him realise football was made for him. Speaking to Match TV shortly after joining Zenit, he revealed that although he had played the game earlier, it was then that he understood he had a special talent.

He might well have never become a footballer if he had taken a different decision a few years later. His father and sister played volleyball for their country, while his mother was also an accomplished coach at a professional level. Sardar himself was naturally drawn towards the sport, and was even called up to the Iran under-15 national squad, but had to decide which sport to pursue seriously.

After joining Sepahan’s youth setup in 2010, Azmoun was taken on a pre-season friendly tour to Turkey as recognition of his performances for his age-group national side. He never made a first-team appearance though as the club were crowned champions of Iran the following season. In 2013 he chose to continue his development under a man who shared his Turkmenistan roots, Kurban Berdyev, with whom he developed a strong relationship.

Under Berdyev’s guidance he made his Champions League debut on loan at Rostov in the 2016-17 season, scoring against Atletico Madrid and in the famous 3-2 home win over Bayern Munich. He had scored his first European goal three years earlier in a Europa League qualifier for Rubin, also with Berdyev in charge. Despite this continental recognition, his best goal return for a season was in Rostov’s Champions League season when he scored 12 in all competitions; his overall tally prior to moving to St. Petersburg stood at just 42 club goals in 154 games. Since then, he has almost doubled that with 39 goals in only 64 appearances for Zenit.

Similar playing style

Not Lionel Messi! Many overseas media outlets have labelled Azmoun the Iranian Messi despite the two sharing almost no similarities in stature, playing style or career path. A closer comparison would be to his country’s legendary forward Ali Daei, the all-time top goalscorer in men’s international football, who starred for Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin among others. Daei was prolific for his country, especially in the air, an ability that Azmoun has had since his upbringing playing volleyball. Carlos Quieroz has also likened him to former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy for their similar smart movements in the penalty area, and lethal finishing abilities.

Did you know…

Azmoun was close to joining Inter Milan after top-scoring in the 2013 Granatkin Memorial tournament in St. Petersburg for the Iranian youth team, but was persuaded to sign for Rubin by the strength of the club’s offer, promise of greater playing time and the Turkmenistan connection with Kurban Berdyev. That visit to his current home nurtured a love for the city that had started a few years earlier by a popular Iranian comedy film entitled “Saint Petersburg”, which featured some friends of Azmoun.

What they say about Sardar Azmoun

“If I had to compare him to one of the players I have coached, I would have to say he reminds me of Ruud van Nistelrooy.” – Sardar Azmoun’s former international manager with Iran, Carlos Quieroz, who gave the forward his full international debut.

“He can realise his potential at a top club. I don’t doubt that because I know the forwards playing at top clubs, and I know his abilities, so I know what I say is true. It’s very hard to win an aerial duel against him and he’s also very quick.” – Kurban Berdyev, Azmoun’s manager at Rubin Kazan and FC Rostov.

“We complement each other in many ways. We try to play as partners. When it’s just the two of us on the pitch, I think it’s harder to contain us. Sardar plays on the edge, I’m a little further back. Everything has grown together – we feel great for each other.” – Azmoun’s strike partner at Zenit, Artem Dzyuba, on their combination.

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