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Persian Gulf Pro League Preview: 2016/17 Season

As the 2016/17 Persian Gulf Pro League approaches us, we present a team to team guide of all 16 clubs participating in the upcoming campaign. The first matchday kicked off on July the 25th, as fans anticipate what could turn out to be yet another exciting season of the Iranian top division.


Esteghlal Tehran

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Manager: Alireza Mansourian

2015/16 position: 3rd

2016/17 predicted position: 2nd

Key signing: The signing of creative midfielder, Bakhtiar Rahmani, will surely give the Blues more creativity further up the pitch as their centre of midfield was lacking a advanced play-maker last season.

Key Player: Omid Ebrahimi was voted the best midfielder of 2015/16 season, so it’s only natural to highlight his importance for team once again as the central midfielder finished as the club’s top goalscorer last season.

Summary: After a disappointing end to last season, the club took the decision to change the manager and backroom staff and bring in no less than 12 new players including some big names such as Bakhtiar Rahmani and Kaveh Rezaei. The fans will definitely expect them to win the league as this season promises to be more exciting than ever.


Esteghlal Khuzestan

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Manager: Mansour Pourmousavi

2015/16 position: Champions

2016/17 Predicted Position: 9th

Key Signing: Skilful winger, Mehdi Momeni, left the club last summer but endured a difficult campaign at Naft Tehran and Esteghlal Tehran, but Esteghlal Khuzestan have brought him back to add more goalscoring threat further up the pitch.

Key Player: captain and centre back, Mohammad Tayebi, was a key figure in the club’s success last season and the new manager will look to him to lead as example with the club looking to defend their title and make some noise in the AFC Asian Champions League.

Summary: After their incredible success last season, Esteghlal Khuzestan suffered a torrid summer as they lost their talented manager and many of their star players. Mansour Pourmousavi has been promoted from assistant manager to head coach as the club look to make a respectable challenge at defending their title and appear in their first ever Champions League campaign.


Foolad Khuzestan

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Manager: Naim Sadaavi

2015/16 position: 12th

2016/17 predicted position: 13th

Key Signing: with the departure of Leo Mesaric and Mehdi Badrloo, the signing of powerful centre back, Abdollah Karami, can prove to be pivotal for Foolad’s hopes of a successful season. The central defender was part of the Foolad side that won the 20114/15 league title.

Key Player: Box to Box Cameroonian midfielder, Mathias Chago, is proving to be one of the most influential midfielders in the league and the club did a great job at retaining him for yet another season.

Summary: After a disappointing two years, Croatian manager Dragan Skocic, left the club in the summer as former player, Naeim Saadavi has been given the role to take care of first-team affairs. The club have failed to add any real quality to their team, and on paper they seem to be behind other clubs in terms of quality.


 FC Mashhad (Former Siah Jamegan)

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Manager: Farhad Kazemi

2015/16 position: 13th

2016/17 predicted position: 10th

Key signing: FC Mashhad have had a major clear-out this summer with 18 new players coming into the club. Ayoub Kalantari could prove to be a huge signing. The 25 year old offers a great passing range and great positioning in central midfield, with his manager will surely build the team around his abilities.

Key Player: Hamid Reza AliAsgari’s goal on the final day of the season managed to keep the team in the league for one more season. His experience and abilities down the right side of the team will be very important. He offers a lot of versatility on the wings as his experience 2could also prove to be key for his side.

Summary: Farhad Kazemi is proving to be a great manager at keeping teams in the league, as he managed to keep FC Mashhad in the league on the final day and on goal difference. This summer he has been very busy and his signing look to be adding more quality to the team. His experience and his players’ abilities could provide a great combination and they could enjoy a mid-table position this season.


 Gostaresh Foolad Tabriz

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Manager: Faraz Kamalvand

2015/16 position: 9th

2016/17 predicted position: 6th

Key Signing: Gostaresh’s owners have invested heavily into the team this summer, and the signature of Mohammad Reza Khalatbari, made some heads turn in the Iranian football community. The experienced silky winger could provide a lot of attacking threat to a team that already boasted a powerful forward line.

Key Player: Dariush Sojaeian – the 23 year old left footed midfielder performed fantastically well last season as bigger clubs took attention and showed huge interests in signing him. His stellar performances earned him a few international caps but the club did really well in retaining his services for the upcoming campaign.

Summary: Gostaresh had a solid season in the last campaign, they’ve had a busy summer and made some big name signings so the board will expect Kamalvand to do slightly better this season and finish in the top 6. Their pre-season was also very successful with a stand-out 3-0 win over Turkish giants Fenerbahce.


Mashin Sazi Tabri

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Manager: Rasoul Khatibi

2015/16 position: 2nd (Azadegan League)

2016/17 predicted position: 11th

Key signing: Payam Sadeghian – the 24 year old is a hugely talented midfielder but is usually surrounded with controversy. His return to his hometown of Tabriz with Mashin Sazi, could bring him back to his best as Mashin Sazi will bid to survive comfortably.

Key Player: Andranik Teymourian – the Iran national team captain, is an extremely important signing for the newly promoted team. The central midfielder is hugely experienced and will bring many qualities on and off the pitch to this team.

Summary: Mashin Sazi had a successful transfer window this summer and Rasoul Khatibi look to have built a solid balanced side. This is the first time that the city of Tabriz has 3 teams in the top division, and Mashin Sazi wouldn’t want that to change at the first time of asking. A mix of experienced and young players will give Mashin Sazi a good platform to have a solid season and survive comfortably.


Naft Tehran

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Manager: Ali Daei

2015/16 position: 5th

2016/17 predicted position: 8th     

Key Signing: Mohammad Ghazi – the experienced striker is a favourite of Ali Daei as he has brought the 31 year old to Naft from Saba Qom. His experience and style of play will add something different to Naft.

Key Player: Iman Mobali – Naft’s board worked day and night to make sure Mobali remained at the club following the departures of the team’s key players and the club’s financial troubles. Daei will be pleased with his decision to remain at the club as he will definitely be the engine in the team with his assists once more.

Summary: Naft Tehran suffered hugely this summer. As if the loss of their manager Alireza Mansourian wasn’t enough, star players such as Alireza Beiranvand, Jalal Hosseini and Vahid Amiri have all left the club. There was even rumours of the possibility of the team being disbanded but with new financial support and new investment, the club recruited Ali Daei as manager and some new players. Daei’s ability to work immensely with young players and Naft’s reputation at producing youngsters will provide a great combination and Naft will finish the season in mid-table regardless of their financial troubles.


Padideh

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Manager: Mohammad Reza Mohajeri

2015/16 position: 10th

2016/17 predicted position: 16

Key Signing: Shahab Gordan – Padideh had previously struggled for a good experienced goalkeeper, but Gordan’s signing will surely sort the problems out in goal. The 32 year old has a vast experience in the Persian Gulf Pro League and if he cuts out his occasional error, he’ll be a massive help to Padideh.

Key Player: Hossein Moradmand – Moradmand is a young powerful centre back who has been likened to former Team Melli and Sepahan defender, Hadi Aghili. He rarely makes individual mistakes and this season can be very important for him in getting a move to a much bigger club and even making a case for a potential international cap.

Summary: Padideh hasn’t had the strongest transfer window, and it may be difficult for them to continue the pattern of the last few seasons and finish mid-table. There’s no strong relegation candidate so Padideh may be one of many clubs fighting for survival come March and April. 


Peykan

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Manager: Majid Jalali

2015/16 position: 1st (Azadegan League)

2016/17 predicted position: 12th

Key signing: Ali Hamoudi – the attacking full-back snubbed many offers from already established teams in the league to sign for the newly promoted side.
Key player: Siavash Yazdani – Yazdani is a 24 year old centre back who was one of the star players in last season’s Azadegan league. His performances in the last campaign helped Peykan win promotion and his role in the team will be no different this season.

Summary: Peykan invested heavily in their team for the upcoming season. The appointment of experienced manager, Majid Jalali, may be their biggest move in the summer. They have a lot of quality on paper and it’s difficult to see them get relegated, although stranger things have happened.


 Persepolis

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Manager: Branko Ivankovic
2015/16 position: 2nd
2016/17 predicted position: 1st
Key Signing: Alireza Beiranvand – some argue that Persepolis’s failure to win the league in the last campaign was due to a lack of a top class goalie. Well, Beiranvand’s arrivals will surely remove all doubts as he comes with a massive reputation as one of the brightest young keepers in the Middle East.
Key Player: Mehdi Taremi – last season’s Persian Gulf Pro League’s top goalscorer was voted as player of the season a few weeks ago. His goals will be vital to help the Reds end their 9 years wait for a league title.

Summary: Persepolis are undoubtedly the favourites for this league title. The Reds already had a very strong team but the signature of the likes of Beiranvand, Jalal Hosseini (Centre back) and Vahid Amiri (winger) will give them more solidity in the back and more goals up the pitch. It’ll be difficult to see anyone finish above them.


Saba Qom

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Manager: Samad Marfavi
2015/16 position: 7th
2016/17 predicted position: 14th
Key signing: Mirhani Hashemi – the versatile defender can play in centre and left side of the back 4. His arrival will help Saba replace many of the star players that departed in the summer.
Key Player: Mohammad Ousani – goals will be key for Saba in the coming season and it looks like their main source for goals will be Mohammad Ousani. He has to be prolific if Saba are to survive in the league.

Summary: Saba Qom quite possibly had the worst summer out of all PGPL teams. Following financial troubles, manager Ali Daei left the club and they lost as much as 11 key first-team players. Their new signings and the new manager don’t seem to be up to the massive task at hand and they may be facing trouble.


 Saipa

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Manager: Hossein Faraki
2015/16 position: 8th
2016/17 predicted position: 4th
Key Signing: Masoud Hassanzadeh – former Zob Ahan striker was subject of a lot of speculation over 12 months. This season will be key for him as he’ll be keen to show his skills and also prove he deserves a spot in the national team squad.
Key player: Mehdi Torabi – his performances last season have made him one of the best young players in the country. The Iran international can play either side of the wing and he’ll be a nemesis to all full-backs across the country.

Summary: A combination between good young team and a manager who is known for working with youngsters, gives Saipa a great chance for success this season. They’ve been trying to qualify for continental football for a few seasons but with Faraki’s arrival at the helm, they have a fantastic chance at achieving their ambitions.


Sanat Naft Abadan

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Manager: Nader Dastneshan
2015/16 position: 3rd (Azadegan League)
2016/17 predicted position: 15th
Key signing: Agil Etemadi – the Iranian-Dutch goalkeeper made a surprising move when he signed for newly promoted Sanat Naft from Dutch side Almere City. His performances will be key as the Sanat Naft faithful hope for their team to survive in the league at the first time of asking.
Key Player: Hossein Baghlani – Baghlani is considered a local player and he will understand what it means to play for the popular Abadani team. The central defender was a key performer in Sanat Naft’s bid for promotion last season.

Summary: Sanat Naft is one of the oldest and most popular teams in Iran. Their promotion made many football fans pleased as they will add more colour and flair to the top division. They’ve added a few quality players to their team but they’ll still be around the relegation zone come the final weeks of the season.


Sepahan

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Manager: Abdollah Veisi
2015/16 position: 11th
2016/17 predicted position: 5th
Key signing: Jalaleddin Alimohammadi – following Saba Qom’s financial troubles, Sepahan were quick to snap up the prolific winger. Alimohammadi was Saba’s star player in the last couple of seasons and he’ll definitely add many qualities to Sepahan.
Key player: Shoja Khalilzadeh – he is one of the best central defenders in Iran and following huge speculations linking him to Persepolis, Sepahan did extremely well to retain his services.

Summary: following last season’s terrible campaign, Sepahan had a major clear-out in the summer. A new manager at the helm and many new players, mostly young and relatively unknown, has given Sepahan a new look. They’ll be hoping for ACL qualification but they’ll face a lot of competition.


Tractor Sazi Tabriz

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Manager: Amir Ghalenoei
2015/16 position: 4th
2016/17 predicted position: 3rd
Key signing: Edinho – a former favourite, he returns after spending a disappointing season in the Qatari Stars League. He has a good goalscoring record in Iran and Tractor fans will be hoping his goals will be a constant theme throughout the season.
Key player: Mohammad Reza Akhbari – the young goalkeeper has been performing consistently well for the last few seasons and he will undoubtedly be a key member of the team.

Summary: Tractor Sazi performed relatively well during the summer, with some interesting additions. The arrival of Edinho, Karrar Jassim, Mohammad Nouri and Hadi Mohammadi will give a new look to Tractor Sazi. They have the ACL to look forward to but Ghalenoei will be aiming for the club’s first ever league title.


 Zob Ahan

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Manager: Yahya Golmohammadi
2015/16 position: 6th
2016/17 predicted position: 7th
Key signing: Yaser Feizi – Zob Ahan had a poor window and a signing from a 2nd division club could quite possibly be their best move in the summer. Feizi, who is a centre forward, scored 19 in 24 games for Oxin Alborz in Iran’s third tier.
Key player: Ghasem Haddadifar – arguably the best playmaker in the league, his presence is key for any team. The game is revolved around him and his great vision and composure on the ball makes him one of the best players in the league.
Summary: Zob Ahan have done fantastically well in the last two seasons under Golmohammadi but this season may be different. They’ve lost many of their first-team players and it doesn’t look like they’ve replaced them well. This is a very young team and with ACL to come, it looks unlikely they can perform well on both ACL and league fronts.

About Hamoudi

The man behind the idea of Ahdaaf.me. Based in Dubai, Hamoudi will bring you an unprecedented level of coverage of the Alfa Lebanese League in English as well as the best of the UAE’s Arabian Gulf League. With dreams of working in the coaching industry in the near future, don’t be surprised by the amount of tactical analysis that he works on to bring in a modern day feel to the very scarce analysis on Middle Eastern Football. (PS: Beware of his rants about the ignominious status of football in his native country Lebanon…).

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