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Meet ‘Iranian Messi’ Azmoun, the Arsenal target who owns race horses, risked World Cup axe and ‘retired’ at 23

THE ‘Iranian Messi’, a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the heir to Iran legend Ali Daei – those are just some of the names Sardar Azmoun is known by.

But the Bayer Leverkusen star will be looking to create his own legacy at the Qatar World Cup.

Sardar Azmoun scored six goals in qualifying to help Iran reach the World Cup

And he could do so in Iran’s first game against England as Carlos Queiroz’s side aim to cause an early upset.

To do so they will be counting on Azmoun, who scored six goals in ten games to help Iran qualify in style – the Persian Stars lost just once in 14 matches.

The striker, 27, defied the Iranian FA by speaking out in support of the protests in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody.

Azmoun has several interests outside of football, he owns an Iranian woman’s volleyball team and is a member of the Humanitarian Association of World Turkmens – but his biggest passion is horses.

Racing life

Azmoun owns Serik Horse Complex which is based in his hometown of Gonbad-e Kavus, Iran.

The stable owns several horses and runs a breeding programme – with Azmoun also developing a stable in Australia.

Earlier this year Azmoun revealed he owns 52 horses in total and in 2020 spent £440,000 on Serlik, who is trained by former Melbourne Cup champion Michelle Payne.

Payne also looks after Sky Horse, who picked up a first win for Azmoun at Cranbourne in August.

Azmoun also owns a £61,000 thoroughbred named Oubitsa who is the son of the hugely successful mare Palentino, winner of the Australian Guineas in 2016.

Michelle Payne with Azmoun’s first winner Sky Horse

Hanging up the boots

Azmoun knows all about the pressure of being Iran’s star man, having carried the expectations of 84million people going into the 2018 World Cup.

The forward had scored 23 goals in 33 caps before that tournament but did not deliver in Russia, failing to score as Iran were knocked out in the group stage.

That sparked significant criticism, so much so that Azmoun revealed it was affecting his mother’s health, so he decided to retire from international football.

Azmoun described that decision as “painful” having represented his country since he was 19-years-old.

But his retirement lasted just a few months and he has since highlighted his importance to the side, while his 41 goals make him Iran’s third highest goalscorer.

He will have to cope with big expectations again in Qatar, particularly as the comparisons to Daei, the second highest international goalscorer of all time, have not gone away.

Azmoun quit international football in 2018 as he was concerned criticism was affecting his mother’s health
The Bayer Leverkusen star has been compared to Iran legend Ali Daei

Iran protests

Azmoun risked being left out of Iran’s World Cup squad by supporting on ongoing protests in the country, which were sparked by the death of Mahsa Animi.

But the former Rubin Kazan star revealed he is happy to do that, and took to Instagram to publicly show his support.

He wrote: “My heart really broke for Mahsa Amini and the likes of Mahsa Amini who are innocent of this.

“They left the world and left a pain in the hearts of people that history will never forget. I will always be your supporter when something bad happens to you.

“I want you to be the first one to feel that I am with you. You are like my sisters. I am proud of you that I am beside you and I hope one day it will be a place.

“At worst I’ll be dismissed from the national team. No problem.

“I’d sacrifice that for one hair on the heads of Iranian women. This story will not be deleted. They can do whatever they want. Shame on you for killing so easily; long live Iranian women.”

Thousands are protesting the death of Mahsa Amini

Premier League links

As well as impressing for his country, Azmoun caught the eye at Zenit St Petersburg, where he scored 52 goals in 79 league games.

He also struck in the Europa League and Champions League and that helped to capture the attention of Arsenal and Tottenham.

Azmoun revealed he had received an offer from Spurs but Zenit rejected the bid.

He claims Roma and Lyon also battled to sign him before Bayer Leverkusen matched Zenit’s £3.8million asking price with Azmoun completing a the move in January.

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