Who is Sardar Azmoun, Bayer Leverkusen's 'Iranian Messi' who plays like Robert Lewandowski?
Sardar Azmoun boasts a goalscoring record Robert Lewandowski would be proud of and carries the hopes of his nation like Lionel Messi with the skills to match, but who is the Iran international who joined Bayer Leverkusen in January 2022?
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Country: Iran (65 caps/41 goals)
Ali Daei, Mahdi Mahdavikia, Ali Karimi, Vahid Hashemian… Sardar Azmoun? A number of Iranian players have already had an impact on the Bundesliga, and there is little reason to think Azmoun will not be adding his name to that elite group.
After breaking through in his native country where he played at the youth academy of Sepahan — one of Iran's biggest clubs — he was tempted to join Russian outfit Rubin Kazan in January 2013 aged just 18.
Watch: Azmoun opened his Bundesliga account against Greuther Fürth in April 2022
It was a bold, left-field move, especially with a number of big European clubs looking at him, but Azmoun was convinced it was the right move by Kazan coach Kurban Berdyev, who could converse with his new signing in Turkmen, a language Azmoun speaks fluently having grown up near the Turkmenistan border.
The first Iranian to feature in the Russian Premier League, Azmoun started to add other lines to his CV, playing — and scoring — in the UEFA Europa League six months into his spell. Within a year, Kazan were forced to announce via their official website that Azmoun would be staying at the club despite offers from Arsenal, Liverpool and domestic powerhouses Zenit.
By that stage he had already made his senior international debut for Iran, for whom he has an outrageously healthy goals-to-games ratio. The entire nation will be delighted he quickly U-turned on his decision to quit international football — aged just 23 — after criticism he received for his performances at the 2018 World Cup.
"My mother had overcome a serious illness and I was happy," said Azmoun to explain his premature international exile. "Unfortunately because of the unkindness of some people, and the insults that me and my teammates in no way deserved, her illness has become severe. This has put me in a difficult position where I must pick one or the other - and as a result, I pick my mother."
Azmoun was in his second spell at Kazan at the time, having spent 2015-17 at another Russian side, Rostov. There, he was reunited with Berdyev and flourished, becoming the first Iranian since ex-Bayern Munich man Karimi in 2005 to score in the UEFA Champions League, and he found the net again against Bayern as Rostov recorded their maiden win in the tournament's group stage.
After a tug-of-war with Rostov, he returned to Kazan for a further two seasons, but Zenit were persistent in their pursuit of Azmoun. He finally moved to the premier club in Russia's former imperial capital in 2019, when his career really took off.
Plays a bit like: Robert Lewandowski
Azmoun has been nicknamed 'The Iranian Messi', but his wiry 6'1" build is more reminiscent of the Bayern and Poland goal machine. Significantly, so is his style of play and goalscoring record.
His 62 goals and 23 assists in 104 appearances for Zenit across all competitions speaks for itself — that's an average of 0.8 goal involvements per game, and a ratio better than a truly prolific one goal every other match. If you compare their international records, Azmoun actually has a better goals-to-games record than Lewy: 0.63 to 0.56!
Like Lewy, Azmoun can do a bit of everything.
A clinical finisher with both feet — although he favours the right — he is also a significant threat in the air and, as his assists tally shows, he has the vision, passing range and team ethic to make as well as take goals. He can drop deeper to give his team an outlet and link up play, bringing others into the attack and making him a carbon-copy replacement for Patrik Schick, though Azmoun could equally be employed alongside the Czech Republic international.
Though he was pipped to the top of the league scorers' chart by teammate Artem Dzyuba, he was named 2020/21 Russian Premier League Player of the Season for his central role in Zenit's third successive title.
Did you know?
Azmoun excelled at volleyball as a youngster, and was called up for Iran's U15 team. It's only natural he got involved in the sport: his father, Khalil, is a former Iran international and has coached a number of domestic clubs, while his mother is also a volleyball coach.
What they're saying
"Sardar Azmoun has been one of Russian football's top goalscorers for several years. He's been champion three years in a row there with Zenit, regularly played in the Champions League and showed himself to be of international class at the highest level. Our attack gains extra quality with him. Sardar will make our attack even more unpredictable and powerful." — Leverkusen's sporting director, Simon Rolfes
"He's very quick, good in the air and has a good sense for space. But he's not just a goalscorer. Sardar Azmoun also sets up a lot of goals and is an outstanding fit for the Werkself as a player who combines well with others." — Leverkusen's managing director for sport, Rudi Völler
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Official Bundesliga transfer centre: summer 2023
Find out all the ins and outs across Germany's second division ahead of the 2023/24 campaign...
Official Bundesliga transfer centre: summer 2023
Find out all the ins and outs across the Bundesliga ahead of the 2023/24 campaign...