This is the start of a weekly series we will be doing on players of the past from all over the world that we feel have been forgotten or were under-appreciated during their playing days. This may give some people a chance to view players they had misremembered or even bring these talents to those who have never heard of them.
Karim Bagheri was an Iranian midfielder who came to prominence during the late 90s and through to the 00s. He possessed an almighty right foot and frequently scored goals from midfield most players can only dream about. Despite being one of the iconic players in Asia during his playing years, his career went by relatively unnoticed by most in the West.
A 17 year old Bagheri broke through at Tractor Sazi as a defender. It was at his second club (the now defunct Keshavarz) were he was moved into the midfield role that he would continue to excel in for the next two decades. After two seasons he moved on a free transfer to the biggest team in Iran and arguably the most supported in Asia, FC Persepolis. After impressing at the Asian Cup in 1996, a tournament in which Iran finished third, he caught the eye of German side Arminia Bielefeld. Along with compatriot Ali Daei, Bagheri moved to Bielefeld and became the first Iranians to play football professionally in Europe. This move would pave the way for an Iranian invasion in the near future as the likes of Ali Karimi, Mehdi Mahdavikia and Ferydoon Zandi would later follow. However, the spell in Germany ultimately turned out to be a disappointing one for the player. In interviews he has cited a failure to see eye to eye with the manager in charge at Arminia Bielefeld, his annoyance as being used as a utility player and his wife’s struggle to adapt to western life as being the main reasons for the return back to the Middle East after only two season in Germany.
He was purchased by former club Persepolis and was instantly loaned out to Dubai club Al Nasr. After several wandering spells, including a season at Charlton Athletic, Bagheri returned to play at the heart of the Persepolis midfield and remained there until his retirement in 2010, becoming a symbol of the club he had devoted the best football of his career to. Karim retired from international football after the failed attempt to qualify for the 2002 World Cup but returned in November 2008 for Team Melli. His official retirement came after a friendly against Brazil in October 2010. He scored an impressive 50 goals in 87 caps for his country. Since his playing career ended he now works as one of the assistant managers at Persepolis under Yahya Golmohammadi as they attempt to break the spell of Sepahan on the Iran Pro League.
My memories of Bagheri are of a tall, commanding central midfielder who often made the difference when it mattered. He was a very well rounded player, akin to someone like Daniele De Rossi nowadays. A leader of men. Although he had a reputation of scoring wonderful goals from long range, Bagheri was also excellent at timing late surging runs into the opposing box, using his strength and height to make himself a threat, with both head and feet. Although his career is far from unsuccessful, I always felt (and still feel) he could’ve done considerably more given his incredible amount of natural ability, not just techincal but also tactical. Off the pitch Bagheri is also perceived to be a true gentleman who commands a lot of respect, with very rarely anything negative said about him.
Take a look of the videos below to remember the undoubted talent of Karim Bagheri.
Iran against South Korea (2000), Bagheri’s goal starts at 00:25 into the video:
In his final season, he scored this fantastic strike to settle the Tehran Derby 2-1 to Persepolis late in the game:
We end with two compilation videos of Bagheri. Enjoy!