As an elite footballer, would you pay to swap your jersey with a fellow player — say, Lionel Messi? That’s the question Iran’s footballers have been pondering before boarding the plane to Brazil. Befuddled yet?
Ali Kaffashian, the president of the Iranian Football Federation, who has been on a cost-cutting spree, created a firestorm when he spoke of players being economical with their kits. “We are not giving the players a shirt for every game,” Kaffashian said. “The players have to be economical with the shirts.”
That’s going to be a bit of a let-down. While their assymmetrical white home jersey may not set pulses racing, their eye-catching red away jersey just might. What’s more, both have a mean-looking Asiatic cheetah graphic on the front to boot.
Soon after Kaffashian’s statement, the Iranian team had left for a three-week training camp in South Africa with a single kit for each player. It’s summer in South Africa but the players were already sweating before they left. When reserve goalie Ali-Resa Haghighi spoke of his jersey shrinking, Kaffashian, with the speed of a cheetah, put the blame on washing it at the wrong temperature. Though they are elite athletes, Iran’s players, not used to showing the agility of deer, the cheetah’s natural play, were caught tongue-tied.
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Kaffashian’s dictats on economy have left Team Melli, as the Iranian football team is called, fuming and feeling blue. Supporters have taken to social media, blogs and discussion forums to vent their anger at what they perceive to be ridiculous strictures on what the players — fully grown adults they are too — can or cannot do.
The traditional swap of shirts, though optional, has not witnessed a blanket ban on economic grounds yet. Queiroz’s men might set a precedent if they are forced to follow these orders. Unlike their jerseys, expect more comments to fly. Iran is set to receive $8m to participate, with $1.5m paid to them as advance — both mandated by FIFA for countries that qualify. As a fan commented on TeamMelli.com, “even if they wish to wipe out their debts, how much can a jersey cost?”
There is also a rumour that Kaffashian has offered Diego Maradona $1,00,000 to wear an Iran jersey and sit in the stadium during their match against Argentina — quite a coup! If this happens, the chief of the federation might face a coup himself.
Even as Iranian federation’s goodwill shrinks, much like the jerseys they asked for, the real losers, who will be left empty-handed, will be Iran’s own players as the promise of a Messi or Aguero or any opponent’s jersey will remain just that — a promise. While Iran are tipped to return without any points, their opponents may also have to go back without the mean graphic of a cheetah for company.