AFC Asian Cup 2019: From abject poverty to superstardom – The rise of Iran’s Alireza Beiranvand

Alireza Beiranvand

Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand’s story is one for the history books. The 26-year-old, once a street sweeper, has now represented his nation at the World Cup and is now playing at the AFC Asian Cup.

Early life

Beiranvand was born in Sarab-e Yas in Lorestan, Iran to a nomad family and spent his early years in abject poverty. Being the eldest son of his parents, the now Iran international was forced to work in order to earn money from a very young age.

In his free time, the now 26-year-old used to play football and an Iranian sport called Dal Paran. It was Dal Paran which ultimately played a huge role in his growth as a goalkeeper.

Beiranvand’s father, however, wasn’t in favour of his son playing the beautiful game and wanted him to lead a simple, usual life. The goalkeeper, in an interview with The Guardian, revealed that his father used to ‘tear down his clothes and gloves’ so that he couldn’t play football.

First steps

Beiranvand, ultimately, ran away from his home to Tehran, in search of an opportunity at one of the clubs at the Iran capital after having borrowed money from one of his relatives. Hossein Feiz, a football coach, met the goalkeeper on the bus to Tehran and asked for 200,000 Toman in return for training.

The goalkeeper, however, didn’t have the money to pay the coach and ended up spending several nights at the Azadi Tower in Tehran. He was once offered place by one of the shopkeepers nearby but at the last moment, he chose against moving there and instead stayed at the club where he was training on trial every day.

“I slept by the club’s door and when I got up in the morning I noticed the coins that people had dropped for me,” he told the Guardian in an interview. “They had thought I was a beggar! Well, I had a delicious breakfast for the first time in a long while.”

Struggles while growing as a footballer

Beiranvand was finally given a chance by the coach he met on the bus journey, Feiz, and was offered a job at a dressmaking company by one of his teammates. Later, he started working at a car wash agency, which Iran legend Ali Daei visited once.

The goalkeeper was too shy to talk to the record goalscorer, stating that he’d rather progress on his own than talk to Ali Daei. Beiranvand said of the situation, “I knew if I had talked to Mr Daei he would have surely helped me but I was ashamed to speak with him and tell him about my situation.”

His biggest struggle was finding a place to spend the nights at. Firstly, Naft-e-Tehran, the club which he joined initially, in 2011, offered him to stay in the prayer room. He then joined a pizza shop and later started working as a street cleaner but the latter meant he wasn’t able to stay fit and Naft-e-Tehran released him.

Beiranvand was about to join Homa but their coach decided against offering him a contract and then he went back to Naft-e-Tehran and his career started taking shape, finally.

Career takes flight

Alireza Beiranvand

The goalkeeper was called up for the Iran U23 team and he became the first choice shot-stopper at Naft-e-Tehran. The Iranian sport of Dal Paran, however, was what accelerated his growth.

The sport required players to throw stones as far they could and that helped him bring another dimension to his goalkeeping. One of his throws, which resulted in an assist, brought him into the limelight and everything has been uphill since.

After having made his debut for Iran in 2014, Beiranvand went on to play for Team Melli at the recently concluded 2018 FIFA World Cup and is starring for them in the Asian Cup in UAE as well and has two clean sheets in as many encounters.

Even Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t score against him, from the penalty spot, during Iran’s match-up against Portugal in the World Cup.

The now 26-year-old plays for Persepolis FC and was even nominated for an individual award at the FIFA The Best awards, becoming the first Iranian to achieve the feat.`