Daei spurs Saipa in dual role
In football-mad Iran, winning the national league is never an easy proposition. As a result, excitement was palpably intense among the Saipa FC faithful when the unfashionable club went top of the league with a 2-1 win over Abo Moslem a fortnight ago. The Karaj based club then went on to prove it was no fluke, defeating Bargh by the same scoreline a week later.
Overshadowed by national powerhouses like reigning champions Esteghlal and Persepolis for over a decade, Saipa FC are now on course for their first league title since 1995.
While other clubs may have achieved success with strong financial support and good management, Saipa's meteoric rise is largely down to current player-coach Ali Daei, the world's all-time top international scorer.
The first player to score a century of international goals, Daei had a hard time after Team Melli's disappointing campaign in the FIFA World Cup in Germany. The former Iran captain was then excluded from the new-look national team in August and things went from bad to worse when he also lost his place with Saba Battery FC, where he scored 23 goals during a two-year spell.
Just as everyone expected the 37-year-old to hang up his boots and call it a day, the former Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin forward signed on with Saipa, who finished a surprising third last season.
Having guided the team to a perfect start in the new season, Daei's inspirational play and leadership convinced the club to hand him the coaching reins following the departure of Werner Lorant in mid-October. The appointment marked the beginning of a new lease on life for both Saipa and Daei as they began to look unstoppable in the Iranian top flight.
Having opened his account in Saipa's 3-1 victory over Malavan on 3 October, Daei rediscovered his scoring touch, completing his first brace with Saipa in a 2-2 draw against Iranian giants Persepolis, one of his former clubs. Then he scored the winning goal in the 2-1 victory over Abo Moslem before netting twice to seal Saipa's latest victory over Bargh.
Daei, who has proved a worthy care-taker boss, is understandably optimistic about the future. "I have accepted the responsibility as we have important matches coming up and we will do our best."
Doing his duel role well, the future is looking bright for the goal king, although he has no delusions of becoming a full-time boss just yet. "I am not ready to retire as a player and this coaching job is purely temporary."
Making up for lost time
Steered on by the legendary Daei, Saipa's goal is now to claim the laurels in the Iranian first division.
Only founded in 1989, the club burst onto the national scene in the 1993/1994 season when they won the first division in their first season after promotion from the second tier. They continued their stunning form the next season as they emerged double winners by clinching both league and Hazfi Cup trophies. That unprecedented achievement was followed by 11 years of hangover, during which they were relegated to the second division in 1997.
With the team currently faring well and Daei in fine fettle on both sides of the touchline, Saipa are hoping to brush off their decade of disappointment in hopes of emulating their heroics of the mid-90s.