By Abhijit Sen Gupta
The incomparable Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, the most famous footballer of recent times, stands on the verge of creating a new world record. It is likely that in the near future he will emerge as the highest ever international goal scorer for his country. He is now in second place and only one man stands ahead of Ronaldo now where scoring for one’s country is concerned.
But who is that man who still stands ahead of Ronaldo in the all time goal scorers list? Surprisingly it is not a player from one of the football super powers of Europe or South America. He is not a German, Italian, Spaniard, Frenchman or Englishman. Nor is he from Brazil or Argentina.
The man who is still at the top of the list is Ali Daei of Iran. He has scored 109 goals for his country. Nobody else has been able to score that many goals for his country. Although, Ronaldo who recently crossed the 100 goals mark, may be able to overtake Ali Daei soon. But as of now the Iranian King still rules the world.
Ali Daei’s journey to the top has been a chequered one. There were patches when he was a sublime player, worshipped by all and sundry. But there were also patches when his own friends and coaches criticized him.
Now, as Ronaldo nears his record what does he have to say about it? How does he feel?
Some time ago, in an interview to an Italian magazine he said:
“I am very proud of this world record as long as it lasts. And I think it’s the same for all the Iranian people. They are happy with what I have achieved in my career. In fact, the record does not belong to me, but to all my people.”
“If Ronaldo breaks my record, I won’t be disappointed because records are meant to be broken. It will happen sooner or later. I am happy that such a great player will surpass me. I really like him and the way he moves in the field. Ronaldo is still in top form, I consider him among the top three best football players ever. I can only wish him the best,” said the former Iranian captain generously.
During his playing days Ali Daei hit world headlines when he overtook the record of the legendary Ferenc Puskas of Hungary.
The great Puskas had scored 84 goals in 85 matches for Hungary in the 1950s. The Hungarian Revolution in 1956 threw the country into political turmoil and resulted in Puskas moving to Spain. So his career with his home country Hungary came to a premature end. However those 84 goals that he had scored for Hungary stood as a world record for more than 40 years.
But finally it was overtaken by Ali Daei. By the end of his career, the man nicknamed ‘Mr Goal’ had scored 109 times in 149 matches for Iran. At the time, it put him 25 goals ahead of Ferenc Puskas and far ahead of all other players in history. But over the years Cristiano Ronaldo has been climbing up the ladder and now stands a few goals away from Ali Daei’s record.
Daei’s football career had its ups and downs. He had to do compulsory military service which interrupted his international football career to some extent although he continued to play for the defence services team.
Eager for a return to the national side, he was told he must join Iranian football giants Persepolis club if he wanted another call-up.
So he did join the Persepolis team and met with noteworthy success.
His height of six feet four inches made him a difficult man to beat in the air. And his strength and speed inside the box was rarely countered by rival defenders. He continued to score freely in most of the matches that he played. And none could prevent his return to the Iranian national side in 1996.
He became Iran’s all-time leading marksman by overtaking Gholam Hossein Mazloumi who previously held the record.
At the club level too he was being noticed by all the big powers. After a brief spell with Qatar’s Al-Sadd club, Daei earned a move to the German Bundesliga club Arminia Bielefeld along with his Iran teammate Karim Bagheri. The two of them had played in a 17-0 thrashing of the Maldives in a World Cup qualifying match in which the mercurial Karim Bagheri got seven goals. Besides Persepolis club, Ali Daei also played in the German Bundesliga for the famous Bayern Munich football club and Hertha BSC; also, Al Shabab club in UAE.
After he quit playing, he was chosen to be the coach of the Iranian national team. But here things did not go smoothly. There were too many aspects of the job which were not in his control.
But at present Ali Daei still remains the world record holder of international goals. Far ahead of legendary players such as Pele, Maradona and Messi. Only Cristiano Ronaldo is now within striking distance of his record. So football lovers must wait and see what the future holds.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.