The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
Zarif resignation: Another demonstration of Iranian footballers' political power? Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

Zarif resignation: Another demonstration of Iranian footballers' political power?

Voria Ghafouri received widespread backing for his criticism of Javad Zarif [CC/Tasnim News]

Date of publication: 26 February, 2019

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
Javad Zarif came under attack earlier this month, after Esteghlal Tehran's right-back and Iranian national team defender Voria Ghafouri took to social media to criticise the then-foreign minister.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif publicly stepped down on Monday night, announcing his resignation on Instagram.

"I am apologising to you for all the shortcomings... in the past years during my time as foreign minister... I thank the Iranian nation and officials," he wrote.

Interestingly enough, the resignation of Zarif, a highly influential figure in Iran, came shortly after facing criticism on social media from none other than Esteghlal Tehran's beloved right back, Voria Ghafouri - the heart of the national team's defensive line.

Zarif declared a week and a half ago that he was "proud [of] the pressure Iran is being [put] under, due to its support of Palestine, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon".

Ghafouri, an Iranian of Kurdish descent, had responded on his Instagram account:

"Mr Zarif, you who say that you are proud you are under pressure because of Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria, know that it's not you who is under pressure." He strongly inferred it was the people of Iran, not the nation's leaders, who were suffering.

Ghafouri has 730,000 followers on the social media network, and soon found widespread support.

He was later summoned to the football association's ethics committee, reportedly on the order of Ali Khamenei himself.

The post has since been deleted, but the movement began.

Notable footballers, sports figures and fans all expressed their support for Ghafouri, who has shown no regret nor published any apology for the post.

Now Zarif has resigned. Is this another demonstration of Iranian footballers' political power? Probably not, to be totally honest, but the timing is indeed notable.

Bilić goes Home

Arriving in Saudi Arabia at the end of September, Slaven Bilić, the former West Ham United and Croatia coach, was facing one of his greatest career challenges.

Ittihad Jeddah, one of Saudi Arabia's top clubs, had been having a disastrous season, fighting against its first ever relegation.

And now, after just five months in the job, and despite managing to stabilise the most stressed-out football club in the region, Bilić has been sacked for failing to lead the desperate team away from the league's relegation zone to safety.

In 21 games together, Ittihad and Bilić managed to lose nine, draw six and win six (including one extra-time victory).

Ittihad announced the sacking of their Croatian coach after their 2-0 loss to Al-Hilal.

Former boss Luis Sierra has already been confirmed as the club's new manager. The Chilean coach has a huge task in front of him, trying to avoid the drop with just nine games left until the end of the season and with Ittihad currently sitting second from bottom in the league.

Bilić's Middle Eastern adventure ended earlier than expected but it will be interesting to see if he will remain in the region for his next position.

From Jerusalem to Jeddah, via Istanbul

Palestinian champions, Hilal Al-Quds, played their first ever AFC Cup match on Monday evening, facing Syrian champions Al-Jaish at Bahrain's Al-Muharraq Stadium.

The young team from Jerusalem enjoyed a positive display, drawing 1-1 on their maiden performance in the Asian competition's group stage. Mohammed Obeid gave Hilal the advantage in the 18th minute, but the Syrians equalised through Ahmad Ashqar right at the start of the second half.

In a group as tight as group A, only the first-ranked team is guaranteed to go through, while the second will need to be the highest-scoring second-ranked team from all the groups in order to qualify for the zonal semi-finals. But the score-draw was still a positive outcome for the Jerusalemites in this match.

Hilal discovered that they were not overwhelmed by the occasion. With three more matches in Bahrain against Nejmeh and Al-Jaish - and a real home game against Al-Wehdat, the Jerusalemites can achieve great things along the way. An away draw against Al-Jaish is definitely a good start to the campaign.

But in Turkey on Monday night, all eyes were on the Istanbul derby, as Besiktas faced off against Fenerbahçe at the Vodafone Arena.

The first half was all about the Besiktas Karakatallar who simply drove over their city rivals, arriving at half-time with a 3-0 lead, thanks to spectacular display from Burak Yilmaz. Game over? Guess again. This is Istanbul.

Fenerbahçe, stuck in the relegation zone in the club's worst-ever season, managed to pull off a little miracle.

With three goals in twelve minutes, the Canaries tied the score and kept the draw until the final whistle, despite a whopping nine minutes of stoppage time added by the referee.

Meanwhile, the Arab Champions' Cup has reached its final stages with the semi-final fixtures now all set up.
Saudi Arabia's Al-Ahli Jeddah hosted Al-Wasl from the UAE, and - after winning the match in the 90th minute - took the final spot in the qualifiers for the most lucrative stage of the competition.

Al-Ahli will play Saudi arch-rivals Al-Hilal Riyadh, while Al-Merreikh from Sudan will take on Etoile du Sahel from Tunisia.

The prizes are eye-watering. Tournament winners will take home $7.5 million, while the runners-up will end up with $4.5m. This means either Al-Merreikh or Etoile will enjoy an immense funding boost beyond real for most African clubs. It's money time.

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More