Ali Daei has never been short of admirers in his homeland, but one of his most fervent fans is a promising Iranian star who has recently been likened to the living legend by media and supporters alike: Karim Ansarifard.
At 1.86m, Persepolis’ new signing possesses all the elements needed for a classic centre-forward like Daei. In fact, Ansarifard was first spotted by his idol in 2005 before spending the next couple of years cutting his teeth under him with Saipa. Already an established player now with both club and country, the 22-year-old admits that he has lost none of his admiration for his mentor.
"Ali Daei is my idol," Ansarifard told FIFA.com in a recent exclusive interview. "As you know he is one of the world's all-time scoring greats and the best international goalscorer. I still enjoy watching the goals he scored back in his primetime."
Daei is not, however, the only role model from whom the striking prodigy can draw inspiration. "My favourite foreign player is Fernando Torres," he continued. "While most European strikers should be good examples for me, I favour Torres particularly and have been following up his skills for the last four years."
While Torres enjoyed free-scoring form with Liverpool upon his move to England in 2007, the same period saw the emergence of Ansarifard, who quickly repaid Daei's faith with his goals for Saipa after he was selected to the first team that year.
He went on to take the Iranian Pro League by storm in the 2009/10 season, scoring 13 times as Saipa finished eighth in the 18-team standings. He has since continued to flourish on the local scene with an ever-growing scoring rate, finishing the past season as the league's top scorer with 21 goals, plus five assists.
"As a young footballer, I have set some goals for myself," he revealed. "During my six seasons with Saipa, one of my goals was to become the league's top scorer. Fortunately I could achieve this at the age of 21 and this has proved to be the only title I could win with Saipa. I am thankful to God and all my team members as well."
His brilliant form earned him a high-profile move to Tehran giants Persepolis in June this year, while big European clubs such as Borussia Dortmund and Everton were also reported to have shown interest in him. Ansarifard, though, insisted the Spanish La Liga is his first choice.
"I had a few offers from Europe and some Arabian countries prior to this season," he explained. "But I would admit that I personally favour the Spanish league. As for Persepolis, my contract with the club allows me to leave whenever I want to join a foreign club."
Donning the No10 jersey which once belonged to Daei, Ansarifard has racked up seven goals in 31 international appearances, including netting a 62nd-minute match-winner against Korea DPR in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.
"That should be the most memorable goal that I have scored so far," he recalled. "It was the goal during the match and thus took us into the quarter-finals in the Asian finals."
He would go on to thrive under Carlos Queiroz, who took over in April 2011, scoring twice as Iran swept past Maldives 4-0 in a qualifier for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
After coming off bench to set up Mohammad Khalatbari to score the only goal against Uzbekistan in June's final qualifying round opener, Ansarifard was quick to pay tribute to the former Portugal coach for his faith in him.
He said: "Working with Queiroz is very enjoyable because you learn something new everyday. He treats his players in such a way that more or less we have a father and son relationship with him. He is the best foreign coach in Iran and I hope our team can go to Brazil 2014 under him."
Currently sitting second behind Korea Republic with four points, Iran take on Lebanon in their third fixture on 11 September, before entertaining the group leaders on 16 October.
For Ansarifard, two consecutive wins will put them into the driving seat for earning one of the group’s two automatic qualifying spots. "Three points are definitely our target at Beirut but we will try to defeat South Korea at home in the next game," he concluded.
"The two victories will be likely to boost our hopes as the campaign reaches the midway mark. And me and my team-mates have promised to do whatever we can to achieve our ultimate goal - to qualify for the World Cup."