Ali Karimi could easily have pursued a comfortable lifestyle as a regional star with Al Ahli in Dubai, but the 2004 Asian Player of the Year has abandoned the desert sun for the somewhat chillier climes of central Europe and a switch to German giants Bayern Munich.
Karimi's Iran team-mates Ali Daei and Vahid Hashemian both tried their luck in Bavaria without any great success, but Karimi is determined to make his mark in the Bundesliga and at his new club. The Iran international, capped 87 times by his country, talked to FIFA.com about his initial impressions at Bayern and his ambitions with the national team.
FIFA.com: You're through the first few weeks at Bayern Munich. What are your impressions of your new club?
Ali Karimi: As you'd expect at a world-class club, you've got everything here at Bayern. I've been warmly welcomed into the dressing room, for which I'd publicly like to thank the other players. Everything's going well, and I'm basically getting along with all my team-mates. It's all sign language and gestures with some of them, but I've been able to talk a bit of English with Roy Makaay and Owen Hargreaves.
When and how did you first hear about Bayern's interest in signing you?
They first enquired quite a long time ago, although Bayern Munich obviously keep tabs on a number of players. They firmed up their interest as time went on. And after they finally made a concrete offer, I felt extremely honoured to be on my way to a world-class club like Bayern. I was at Al Ahli in Dubai when the offer came in. Naturally, I'm overjoyed at where I've ended up. I also received an offer from AS Monaco, but although they have an excellent team, Bayern are in a different class. If the chance to play for this calibre of club comes along, you have to take it.
You're the third Iran star to join Bayern, but your national team-mates Ali Daei and Vahid Hashemian never really settled. Why will it be different for you?
Ali Daei and Vahid Hashemian are two of our country's best players. Maybe they were unlucky, or something else didn't work out. Up to now I haven't really achieved anything, so this is my first major challenge. I'll give it my best shot, and we'll see what happens.
Did you ask Daei and Hashemian for any advice before saying yes to Bayern?
Obviously we talked about it when we were training together for Iran, and I'm trying to put one or two tips into practice. But what really matters is how I put myself forward, and how well I play. I have to keep my focus on myself. In any case, most of what the two of them had to say concerned the basics of training in the Bundesliga.
On the subject of training, Bayern coach Felix Magath is renowned as an exceptionally hard taskmaster.
I was aware of Felix Magath's rigorous training methods, so I prepared myself our ahead of the season, and I've had no trouble with it as a result. I'm continuing to come through the sessions OK, although I must admit I've never trained this much in my life. Fortunately I've been able to keep up so far.
You're having to adapt to a completely new culture and language, which normally takes quite a while. But you're only on a one-year deal. Isn't that a little too short?
It's true I've only signed up for one year in the first instance, although the contract includes an option. If certain criteria are fulfilled, the contract will be automatically extended. But I'm not thinking that far ahead. I'm just trying to give it my best shot for now.
It can't be that easy when you've come from a completely different cultural background. What are you doing to try and settle in as quickly as possible?
Pre-season has been extremely tough and I haven't had much spare time. As soon as I do, I'm going to try and learn German.
If everything goes according to plan, what does the future hold for Ali Karimi?
I'm not interested in what might happen two or three years from now. I'm just trying to give it my best shot. My dream is to succeed at Bayern, and that's my absolute top priority. Let's wait and see what happens after that. This is a critical period in my career, and its pretty much make or break. So I'm concentrating 100 percent on football, and I'm doing everything I can do to succeed here in Munich.
You've already tasted success with Iran and booked a place at the FIFA World Cup Germany 2006™. What can Iran achieve at the tournament?
Up to now, just making it to the finals has been an achievement in itself. Now we've qualified, we want to put on a show for the large Iranian community in Germany and go back home with our heads held high. I don't mean we'll win the trophy, I'm not that unrealistic, but getting through the group stage would be a fantastic achievement.
It will be your first FIFA World Cup finals. What does that mean to you personally?
Every footballer dreams of playing at the World Cup finals. The preparations I'm going through here at Bayern should enable me do the best I can to help my country.
The next FIFA World Cup takes place in Germany. Was that a factor in your decision to move here?
At the time I received the firm offer from Bayern, it wasn't at all certain Iran would qualify for the finals. My priority was the switch to Munich, and nothing to do with Germany being World Cup host nation. But obviously, it's an advantage in that I have a year to warm up, if you like, and prepare for the tournament.
Iran improved dramatically from match to match during qualifying. Why was that?
I'm basically not totally satisfied with our qualifying campaign, as we didn't actually play that well in some of our games. But as they say, at the end of the day, it's results that count. We picked up the points and we've made it. But if we want to get anywhere at the finals, we'll have to play better football.
Who were your biggest rivals en route to a place at the finals?
Japan were our main rivals, but the other teams were hardly weak. Passion plays a major role in World Cup qualifying. Fortunately we were able to battle through.
What are Iran's strengths, and where is there room for improvement ahead of the FIFA World Cup?
Every team at the finals will be 100 percent physically fit. I reckon we can improve in this area. On the plus side, we have excellent individuals. The coach needs to find our best formation if we're to stand any chance in Germany.
Iran feature a blend of seasoned professionals and a clutch of talented youngsters. Who do you believe could be the next stars to emerge from the country?
I don't want to single out individuals, but it's true we have a number of exceptional young talents. As long as they're treated carefully, Iran should get stronger and stronger with every passing year.
The game in general is on a highly positive upward trend in Iran. What are the main reasons behind the country steadily moving up the world rankings?
The people are very, very much in love with the game. A lot has been done in terms of organisation and management, although I'm not entirely satisfied in that area. In my opinion, we have to be working more closely with other countries, learning and bringing home the qualities and opportunities you find out there. If that happens, I'm convinced we have a very bright future at the international level.
Nowadays, there's a minor but undeniable political dimension to a player arriving in Europe from the Muslim world. What's your point of view?
Personally, I treat everyone I meet in exactly the same way. I'm totally uninterested in a person's religion or political beliefs. Fundamentally, I'm here to play football, and not as some kind of ambassador.