By Farzam Vanaki & Amirhadi Arsalanpour
Former Persepolis manager Branko Ivankovic believes Seyyed Jalal Hosseini’s status at the Persian Gulf Pro League club was more than the one belonging to a mere player.
The veteran center-back on Friday officially called time on a glittering 20-year career at the age of 40, embarking on a new chapter as an assistant coach at the Tehran-based Reds for the start of next season.
“I was very proud to have a player like Jalal during my time at Persepolis. He was the main figure and most important player in the team. He was more than a captain to the squad,” the Croatian, who celebrated three successive Iranian league titles with Hosseini between 2016 and 2019, said in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily.
“Jalal always helped me as a coach with the right decisions and team selections [at Persepolis]. I’m really happy to have worked with such a player in my career.”
Describing Hosseini as “one of the best Iranian footballers over the past 15 years”, Ivankovic said high-profile players like Mehdi Taremi – now playing for Portuguese giant Porto – Vahid Amiri, and Alireza Beiranvand were privileged to have his support throughout their days at both Persepolis and Iran’s national team.
“I’ve worked with many excellent players from Croatia and other countries, as well as some prominent Iranian footballers such as [Mehdi] Mahdavikia, [Ali] Karimi, Ali Daei, [Mehrdad] Minavand, [Vahid] Hashemian, and Seyyed Jalal was, of course, in the same level with all of those great players,” added Ivankovic, who is now the head coach of Oman’s national team.
Asked about the prominent features of Hosseini’s character, Ivankovic said: “He loved football, as you could see he kept playing until the age of 40. For him, everything was about the game as he always had the right nutrition and took care of his body.
But perhaps Hosseini’s most significant quality was his “strong motivation”, Ivankovic noted.
“He always wanted to be a champion. He was a champion deep inside. He was always motivated, whether it was a match or just a training session. Nobody could recognize his age [in the latter stages of his career], as he looked like a player in his mid-20s.”
The most decorated player in the history of the Iranian top flight with nine league titles – five of which came with Persepolis – Hosseini made the first of his 115 international appearances in 2007 – a year after Ivankovic stepped down as the Iranian head coach.
The Croatian had once said one of the regrets of his career was not to work with Hosseini when he was in charge of Iran’s bench.
“He took part in a short training camp with the national team but he was young and I already had experienced defenders in the squad like Rahman Rezaei, Yahya [Golmohammadi], and [Mohammad] Nosrati. I didn’t have the time to witness his qualities but he went on to establish himself as the best defender in the country,” Ivankovic said.
First introduced to the Iranian football with northern club Malavan in 2002, Hosseini also lifted league trophies with Saipa and Sepahan – on three occasions – while spending a short spell overseas with the Qatar Stars League outfit Al Ahli in the 2014/2015 season.
Comparing the Iranian with Italian great Fabio Cannavaro, Ivankovic said Hosseini was unfortunate not to play at the top level of European club football.
“It’s not easy for a player from the Middle East to play at the European football, as the clubs prefer to go for players from Brazil and Argentina, when it comes to signing three non-European footballers, but Hosseini surely had what it takes to play at top European leagues.”