Porto’s Iranian talisman in attack – Breaking The Lines

It was the summer of 2019. Kylian Mbappé, the second most expensive player in the world then and to date, was preparing for another season at Paris Saint-Germain. Karim Benzema was looking to bounce back from a disappointing campaign at Real Madrid which saw the club finish without a trophy, and Mohamed Salah was coming off a Champions League victory at Liverpool.

Mehdi Taremi, meanwhile, had completed an 18-month loan spell at Qatari side Al Gharafa, his first time outside Iran in his 27-year life. He would join Rio Ave on July 23, 2019 on a two-year contract, his first European club. Today, Taremi, Mbappé, Salah and Benzema are the only players in Europe’s top six leagues to have registered at least 20 goals and 10 assists.

The Persian striker began his development at Bargh Bushehr’s Academy in 2002 at the age of 10. He moved to Iranjavan Youth Academy at the age of 14 in 2006 before moving to Shahin Bushehr, a military club to start his professional football career at the age of 18.

He made 7 appearances for the club, scoring just one goal before moving to Iranjavan in the summer of 2013, signing a two-year contract. He was given the club’s No.9 shirt and scored 12 goals in 22 games for the club, making him the second top scorer in the Iranian league at the time.

Taremi’s goalscoring form continued when he moved to Persepolis where he scored 53 goals in 105 appearances before joining Qatari club Al-Gharafa where he would go to score 20 goals in 38 games before moving to Rio Ave for his first stint in European football.

Founded in 1939, Rio Ave is based in Vila de Conde, a small town in northern Portugal. It was named after the Ave River, which flows from the city into the Atlantic Ocean, and it has helped produce a wide variety of players such as Jan Oblak, Ederson, Rui Jorge and Fábio Coentrão. Taremi would soon join this group.

Rio Ave had just finished fifth under manager Miguel Cardoso, who left at the end of the season to take charge of Ligue 1 side Nantes. They had sold various key players but nevertheless rebuilt well in the summer window with the signings of Carlos Mané, Léo Jardim, Aderllan Santos, Lucas Piazón and Taremi.

The Iranian forward had an instant impact at Vila de Conde, scoring a hat-trick in his first Primeira start against Aves. The following week he won three penalties – all conceded by Sebastián Coates – to lead Rio Ave to a 3-2 win over Sporting.

It would set the tone for this season – Taremi scored a total of 21 goals and 2 assists in 37 appearances to lead Carlos Carvalhal’s side to a fifth-place finish, beating Famalicão on the final day of the season to seal League qualification Europe. The Iranian’s 18 league goals saw him finish top scorer alongside Benfica’s Carlos Vinícius and Pizzi.

While Carlos would win the Bola da Prata for playing fewer minutes, he would eventually join Tottenham and PSV Eindhoven on loan in pursuit of minutes, while Pizzi would join Istanbul Basaksehir on loan in January this year. Taremi, meanwhile, remained one of Portugal’s best players.

The following year would see Carvalhal, Nuno Santos, Matheus Reis and many others leave Rio Ave, but perhaps no departure made more of a difference than Taremi’s. Without the Iranian goals, Rio Ave would go from competing against Milan in the Europa League qualifiers to relegation in the space of 10 months.

Taremi left Rio Ave and joined Porto for €4.5m, looking to provide some firepower for a side that had just won the domestic double. He followed a similar pattern from Porto signing players from the bottom half – Carraça joined Boavista, Cláudio Ramos joined Rio Ave and Zaidu Sanusi arrived from Santa Clara.

While Porto would lose the title to Rúben Amorim’s Sporting, Taremi lived up to expectations by racking up 23 goals and 18 assists in 2020/21 – he currently has 24 goals and 17 assists with three games to go. His acrobatic goal against Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-final saw him nominated for the FIFA Puskas award, missing out on the award to Erik Lamela.

Taremi is 1.87m tall and marries his aerial presence with a crafty goalscoring instinct in a similar mood to Ruud van Nistelrooy, Edin Dzeko, Karim Benzema or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He is a technically gifted footballer with superb finishing ability and a physique that allows him to hold off defenders, and his link-up play allows him to go deep and pick teammates with great passing.

Photo: SofaScore

As his Rio Ave heatmap shows, Taremi would play as a lone centre-forward, and while his responsibility lay in scoring goals, he had the ability to come across either of them. flanks and to use his strong right foot to link up with players or find the back of the net from dangerous positions.

Against Benfica, he dives deep into midfield, opening himself up to the possibility of receiving a pass while on the last man’s shoulder and attacking the open space. At Porto he has impressed as Evanilson’s attacking partner this season in a 4-4-2 rather than playing as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 at Rio Ave. Operating in this 4-4-2, Taremi will often drift to the left flank to receive the ball before firing into a cross or dribbling inside.

Taremi is, in many ways, a hybrid between a 9 and a 10. He is able to create chances, attack space and score goals, similar in many ways to Benzema, able to place himself behind the baseline, to dive deep to create a numerical superiority. in midfield, as well as drifting to the flank to allow other players to move into central areas.

With the Iranian set to turn 30 in July, it’s unclear whether other top European sides will seek to sign him, and if they do, Porto will demand top dollar – his contract expires in 2024. So that Taremi closes in the first club trophy of his time in Europe, there can be no further debate; he is one of the best players in Portugal and the last centre-forward to storm the Estádio de Dragão after Radamel Falcao and Jackson Martínez.

By: Ogunniyi Abayomi / @OGUNNIYIABAYOM1

Featured image: @GabFoligno / DeFodi Images

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