Written by Atbin Moayedi
Star striker Sardar Azmoun has, once again, been linked with newly crowned Scottish champions Celtic. I argued last July, in an episode of Gol Bezan, that a move from Rostov to Rubin Kazan would be a step in the wrong direction, if not a step down, by Azmoun. Based on the difference in league position between the two clubs (who are currently 12th and 9th, respectively) with two games left in the season, it can be argued whether I was right or wrong. What is not a point of discussion, however, is that Azmoun has seriously underperformed this season for Rubin Kazan and, more importantly, that his time in the Russian league should, and hopefully will, soon come to an end.
The next question is therefore where Azmoun should move. As well as Celtic, who have been rumoured to want the gifted striker for several seasons, Azmoun has also been linked with Everton, Leicester, Wolves and Fulham. In my opinion, the Premier League is the perfect league for Azmoun. Perhaps, as an Iranian Englishman, I am biased, but I strongly believe that, as a complete striker, with good technical ability, decent pace and an exceptional aerial presence, the Premier League is the right destination for the celestial striker.
Although Celtic will offer Azmoun regular Champions League football and league titles, it is, at the end of the day, the Scottish league which, other than a platform to move on to bigger and better things (as in the case of Virgin van Dijk) offers little, especially compared to the Premier League. One argument for a move to Celtic would be that Azmoun, who is only 23, can get solid experience under a decent manager, Brendan Rodgers, as well as Champions League football.
Wolves are playing some fantastic football and ran away with the Championship title, helped by their Portuguese contingent (Diogo Jota et al.), who have contributed a significant amount of goals. With a great manager in Nuno Espirito Santo and a very useful connection to super agent Jorge Mendes, Wolves will not struggle to lure talent to the Molineux. This means that there will be considerable competition for a starting spot.
Fulham, who are currently third in the Championship, with one point behind Cardiff who occupy the second (and last automatic promotion spot) may gain promotion to the Premier League. Fulham, like Wolves and all other clubs who are promoted to the Premier League, will strive to maintain their Premier League status the following season. Moving to one of these two clubs would pose a risk of relegation for Azmoun and, if he has offers from other, stronger Premier League clubs, it is in my opinion that he gives more consideration to those. Having said that, guaranteed playing time and a place in the starting line-up, should be at the forefront of Azmoun’s mind when he inevitably decides to move.
The other clubs rumoured to have an interest in Azmoun are Everton and Leicester City. Whilst Leicester are a fantastic club, who play great football with players like Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, under the guidance of a pragmatic manager in Claude Puel, they have a surplus of strikers. Currently, the club already have Vardy, Shinji Okazaki and Kelechi Iheanacho with Islam Slimani, Ahmed Musa and Leonardo Ulloa all out on loan. The question is whether Azmoun would get a starting spot, which would only be the case when Leicester play with two strikers as Jamie Vardy is naturally the first choice.
The rumours surrounding Everton are undoubtedly fuelled by the fact that the club’s majority owner is British-Iranian billionaire Farhad Moshiri, who has surely got Azmoun in his eye and has been rumoured to have met with Kurban Berdyev, Azmoun’s Turkmen coach (and father figure) at both Rostov and Rubin Kazan. Everton, since the departure of Romelu Lukaku, have struggled to find the net. Struggling striker Oumar Niasse is rumoured to be leaving, leaving Cenk Tosun, who arrived in January, as the only true number 9 (not counting Wayne Rooney). Tosun and Azmoun have similar characteristics, however, the lack of strikers at Everton would mean that Azmoun is more likely to get significant playing time. Furthermore, Everton are a club who should, even though they have underperformed this season, qualify for European football and this is something that the club will be aiming for next season (regardless of whether Sam Allardyce remains at the club).
Having considered all of the abovementioned points, Everton seem to the best choice out of the rumoured clubs. Azmoun will need reassurances as to his place in the squad as playing time is of paramount importance. The lofty striker has shown his quality, in both club and international games, including against teams like Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, and he will have the chance to show the world his ability on the greatest stage of all in Russia this summer. If Azmoun can score a couple of goals for Iran in the group stage, particularly against Spain or Portugal, there will inevitably be suitors at the door. The young striker (and his advisers) will then have to make the right decision on where would be best for the player’s development and career.