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Iran Riot Police Disperses Protesting Football Fans

Riot Police dispersed angry Esteghlal Football Club fans in Tehran today.

Iran’s notorious riot police known as the Special Unit rushed in on Wednesday to disperse angry football (soccer) fans outside the headquarters of Esteghlal Football club in Tehran.

The fans were chanting slogans against the club officials and the sports minister for failing to return Andrea Stramacchioni, the Italian coach of the team, who quit and left the country last week.

Nearly a hundred enraged fans of the blue-jersey Esteghlal had gathered outside the club headquarters to demand the immediate return of Andrea Stramaccioni. After hours of unrest, the fearsome riot police dispersed the fans.

Hundreds of Esteghlal fans held a similar rally earlier on December 9 to express their dissatisfaction with the club and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports when Stramaccioni left Iran.

The much-loved Italian coach who was named Esteghlal coach in June has succeeded in placing the capital city's "blue-jerseys" at the top of the country's premier league table. Nevertheless, after months of putting up with overdue wages, Stramaccioni was forced to resign on December 8.

In a letter, the Italian coach lauded the team’s fans but said he was "forced to leave" because the club could not make regular payments to him and his assistants through legal channels, that is, banks.

Esteghlal directors say under the U.S. sanctions on Iran's banking, they cannot open a hard-currency bank account to transfer Stramaccioni's wages but have promised the fans to do what they can to arrange it.

The head of public relations department of the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, Mazyar Nazemi, told reporters that during a highly complicated operation assisted by the Islamic Republic Foreign Ministry and the Iranian Embassy in Rome, Stramaccioni's overdue wages were successfully paid in cash.

"We tried four times to transfer Stramaccioni's salary to his bank account, but the transactions were rejected", Mazyar Nazemi said, adding, "Now, Stramaccioni has access to his overdue salary. If he accepts it, one could say that a 'miracle' has occurred.

Due to U.S. sanctions Iran faces serious problems for transferring money. The club had earlier tried 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.

Stramaccioni was expected to return to Iran on Monday. However, it appears that even the "miracle" has failed to bring the famous Italian coach back to Tehran.

Esteghlal and its main rival, Persepolis, are owned by government entities. Most of the other football clubs in Iran are also, directly or indirectly, owned or run by state entities or commanders of the Revolutionary Guards.