Perugia may be building their very own Tower of Babel as this season players from Trinidad to South Korea via Chile have come together in the name of football. The latest addition to the globetrotting side is Ali Samereh, fresh from topping the scorers charts and table with Esteghlal Teheran thanks to 19 goals in 18 games. He has been compared to former Grifoni star Hidetoshi Nakata and Pippo Inzaghi. But one things for sure, at just £166,000 for a one-year loan, Serie As first ever Iranian is definitely a bargain.
The son of farmers in Rafsayani and the youngest of seven brothers, 23-year-old Samereh is a refreshing change from the money-driven foreign imports that now flood Serie A. "All that matters in life is good health. I have never played for money. I started out in this sport by imitating my older brothers on the street," explains the devout Shi-ite Muslim. "I think that in my career as a football player the prayers to Allah helped me a great deal."
The prayers at 6am every morning prepare him for the day ahead, but when the team is in ritiro this can create a few problems. "Ali lays out everything he needs and prays very quietly," explains roommate Marco Di Loreto. "But I am a light sleeper so I tend to wake. Ali is such an extraordinarily polite and sweet person that Id forgive him anything, even a few hours of lost sleep."
Di Loreto is learning about another culture first hand, but the Italian way of life is also rubbing off on Samereh. "At this rate Ill put on four or five kilos. I have discovered the joys of Italian cooking - steaks, pizza, pasta," he jokes holding on to a slightly swelling stomach. "But I still need to learn the Italian language. I will have to travel a great deal to start with, but after that I promise to knuckle down and study."
Samereh is an important focal point for Perugias attack, but he is even more crucial for Iran. World Cup qualifiers for eight consecutive weeks would have ruled him out of the first two months of the Serie A season. But the club have provided a private plane to fly him and another new buy, Mehdi Nassab Hashemi, back from any qualifying games. Its quite an expenditure for Perugia, but his first friendly appearance alone proved he is worth the effort.
"Samereh has already shown that he is very talented," exclaimed Perugia administrator Alessandro Gaucci, "doing things that no other foreign striker had done on his first impact with the Italian game." On his half-hour debut he scored twice with an expert volley and spectacular bicycle-kick. "Every now and then I try for the stunning goal, but the important thing is that the ball crosses the line. Every goal is beautiful in my eyes."
It has been claimed that Gaucci was first alerted to Samerehs prodigious performances by an importer of Iranian carpets who lent him the videotapes of the man they compared to Inzaghi, the goal-poaching Milan striker. "Its true that they used to call me Inzaghi-gol," confirms Samereh.
"But I have always tried to learn from all the great players I saw on television, from Ronaldo, simply the best striker, to Zidane and Rivaldo. By that same token I also paid great attention to the finest players of my country, Bagheri, Daei, Mahdavikia, all my teammates in the Iran national side. Now in Italy I wish to learn and make the most of this wonderful career opportunity. I realise it wont be easy, even though my teammates and Coach Serse Cosmi have given me the warmest welcome possible. I hope to repay them on the field with the maximum effort."
Cosmi has been bowled over by the new arrival but casts aside doubts on how to communicate with so many different nationalities. "I often use hand movements to get my meaning across," admits the animated boss, "a truly universal language. We have an interpreter on the bench with me, but that too can create problems. Last year he mistook maintain possession for pass the ball first time, which as you can imagine is not quite the same thing."
"Having said that sometimes I can get through to the foreigners easier than some Italians. As the old saying goes, there is no man more deaf than one who does not want to hear."