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Angry Football Fans In Iran Protest As Popular Italian Coach Quits For Payment Problems

Riot police outside the offices of Esteghlal football club in Tehran. December 9, 2019
Riot police outside the offices of Esteghlal football club in Tehran. December 9, 2019

Hundreds of fans of Iran's Esteghlal F.C. soccer team, stormed the club on Monday in protest to the circumstances that led coach Andrea Stramaccioni to unilaterally cancel his contract with the club. He left Iran for Turkey this morning.

The fans of the club, the top team in Iran's Premier League, protested in front of the Ministry of Sports and chanted slogans against the Sports Minister who they say is a fan of Esteghlal F.C.'s old rival, Persepolis F.C.

When the Police intervened and dispersed the fans they went to the club headquarters and stormed it, Tasnim News Agency reported. According to the Iranian Students New Agency (ISNA) the angry fans crashed the club's parking gate and attacked one of the club officials who tried to calm them.

The team was scheduled to play against Peykan today. Authorities have changed the venue of the game from a stadium in Qods Town in south Tehran to Azadi Stadium in the west of the capital. Qods Town was the scene of some of the biggest and bloodiest protests in November.

Stramaccioni cancelled his contract with Esteghlal F.C. on Sunday after the club's payment transferred to his account in Italy led the bank to block it. Iran encounters serious problems for transferring money due to the U.S. sanctions. The club had to pay the coach's wages in smaller sums through various money exchangers instead of the team's international account which caused suspicions of money laundering.

According to Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar had personally tried to lobby for resolving the issue and even resorted to Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi to speak with the Italian ambassador in Tehran to stop the popular Italian coach from leaving.

A spokesman for the Sports Ministry told ILNA that authorities are trying to find a solution to the problems caused by the sanctions which led to the irregular payment of the Italian coach. "At the moment the most important thing is keeping the fans calm and bring Stramaccioni back," he said.

Stramaccioni and his technical staff have informed FIFA that they have terminated their employment with the club unilaterally effective December 6 with "just cause", Italy's Corrier dello Sport reported on Monday.

Under Stramaccioni's leadership the club moved to the top of Iran's professional football league after four years. The Italian coach is very popular with the team’s fans, known as The Blues.

The hashtag Stramaccioni has risen to the top of the trending hashtags in Persian language today. The fans of the team are also using the #comebackstra hashtag on Twitter to encourage the Italian coach to come back.

One Twitter user said the departure of Stramaccioni is the latest consequence of the sanctions and not joining the conventions of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) tweeted. Iran’s hardliners have prevented the country from joining the international conventions against money laundering and terror finacing.

On Septemeber 7 Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said he preferred Iranian teams to have Iranian coaches. "I will not interfere, but there is no need [to have foreign coaches], he had said.