Zenit St Petersburg striker Sardar Azmoun has confirmed that Tottenham were among several clubs that made an offer to sign him during the summer.
Azmoun also namedropped Roma, Bayer Leverkusen and Lyon, but claims that Zenit blocked all bids that came in for him. Now, the prolific Iranian star plans to leave the Russian champions as a free agent when his contract expires next year instead.
Here's a look at everything you need to know about Azmoun...
1. From Russia with love
Azmoun was born and raised in northern Iran close to the border with Turkmenistan – he speaks fluent Turkmen as well as Persian – but it was in Russia that his professional football career took off.
The forward had been at Iranian club Sepahan after progressing through the youth ranks there since the age of 15, but never made a first-team appearance. His prolific form for Iran’s Under-20 team brought him to international prominence and Rubin Kazan signed a 17-year-old Azmoun in 2013.
Now 26, he has stayed in Russia ever since. He moved from Kazan to Rostov in 2015, initially on loan, before heading back to his former club just over two years later. His move to Zenit then came in February 2019, winning three Russian Premier League titles and one Russian Cup to date.
2. Prolific for Zenit
Although he had a respectable goal record for Rostov and scored regularly at international level, both as a junior and senior player, Azmoun was never prolific at club level until he moved to Zenit.
He had just turned 24 when he arrived in Saint Petersburg and immediately hit the ground running, scoring nine times in 12 league appearances in the final few months of the 2018/19 campaign. He scored another 17 in 28 the following season and then stepped that up to 19 in 24 last time out.
Already in 2021/22, Azmoun has five goals in six league appearances.
This season will be his fourth in the Champions League and he will face Chelsea and Juventus in the group stage in the coming weeks and months.
3. ‘Iranian Messi’
From a young age, Azmoun was dubbed the ‘Iranian Messi’ by the media.
Despite having a very different physical stature to the Argentine legend, standing over six feet tall, his speed, finishing and movement drew the comparisons.
It was not the first time a player was christened their country’s version of Messi. Ryan Gauld became the ‘Scottish Messi’, for example.
Azmoun was also likened to Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his youth.
4. International retirement
Azmoun was 19 when he made his senior international debut in 2014 and narrowly missed out on going to the World Cup that summer. He soon became a prolific scored from 2015 onwards, netting 11 times to fire his country to the 2018 World Cup.
He played 90 minutes in all three of Iran’s games at the tournament but failed to find the net and was the subject of intense criticism back home. He blamed the stress and the pressure for making his mother ill and announced his retirement from international football at just 23.
The retirement lasted only briefly and he was back playing for Iran within a few months. Azmoun has since taken his international goal tally to 37 in only 56 appearances.
5. Better than Daei?
Until recently losing his record to Cristiano Ronaldo, Iranian legend Ali Daei was the highest scoring male international footballer of all time - and he remains Iran’s leading scorer by some distance.
It is only natural that Azmoun has been compared to Daei and the 26-year-old is already fifth on the Iran all-time goalscorer list. He is also the only player in the top 10 with a goals-per-game average even remotely comparable to the retired national hero.
Azmoun will soon pass former Bayern Munich play-maker Ali Karimi and long-serving ex-Osasuna striker Javad Nekounam. He only needs another 14 goals to go second on the list and could feasibly reach that in the next couple of years.
Whether or not he is able to catch Daei, who was 37 when he called time on his Iran career, Azmoun has already made a bigger impact at club level.
He has been playing in the Russian Premier League, one of UEFA’s top 10 leagues, for almost a decade and has been so good there that he is commanding interest in England, Germany, Italy and France. Daei did play in Germany for five years but struggled for goals there. The aforementioned Karimi also lasted only briefly at Bayern, while Nekounam peaked with Osasuna.