The match against Sporting last Saturday marked Mehdi Taremi’s 100th appearance for FC Porto. He has scored 53 goals and made 37 assists, which is an absolutely sublime statistical record. He has become one of Porto’s most important players and has proven to be one of the best players in Portuguese football. This post will share a bit about his history, and discuss the impact he has had on the club, on and off the pitch.
Mehdi started his career at Shahin Bushehr FC in 2010, his local team, and after a few seasons in the lower leagues, he joined Persepolis FC in 2014 – one of the biggest clubs in Iran. After scoring 55 goals in 112 appearances, he joined Al-Gharafa SC. He spent 18 months in Qatar, scoring 16 goals in 37 matches, and in the summer of 2019, he joined Rio Ave.
That was a surprise signing at the time – whilst Taremi was a complete unknown for the average Portuguese football fan, he had high credentials in the Middle East (including playing for his national team). He took a gamble on his career though, giving up a fair amount of money to join a smaller team (paying him a much lower salary) that could give him exposure to the European market.
It was a great decision. In his League debut, he scored a hat-trick to seal the win against Chaves! They beat Sporting a couple of weeks later, with Taremi managing to coax Coates into committing three penalties. Rio Ave finished 5th that year, which was an incredible achievement, with Taremi scoring 21 goals in 37 games (all competitions).
Move to Porto
After much speculation about where he would end up (linked to Porto, Benfica and Sporting at various points), Taremi signed a 4-year deal with Porto, in a transfer worth 4.5m€. He wanted to play in the Champions League (ruling out Sporting) and for a team that would make him a regular feature in the starting line-up (Porto had sold 3 strikers that summer, whereas Benfica already had multiple strikers in the roster).
Despite his excellent season at Rio Ave, Taremi was a rather unheralded signing at the time. Porto were in flux after the Covid season, with a very short pre-season and a lot of movement in the transfer market. He made his debut in the first game of the season against Braga on the 87th minute- just a few seconds after coming on, he got fouled inside the box and won a penalty for Porto. The match ended in a 3-1 win.
Mehdi Taremi officially signed for FC Porto on 1 September 2020.
Debut season in review
Taremi didn’t start any of Porto’s first 7 League games, but was always used as a substitute. Sérgio Conceição was asked about this in one of this pre-game press conferences, and he specifically said Taremi was undergoing a period of adaptation to Porto’s style of play, noting he wouldn’t rush Taremi into the starting line-up until he was ready.
On November 8th, Taremi scored his first goal for Porto. Porto were down 1-0 at home against Portimonense, and still in the first-half, Sérgio Conceição replaced Uribe with Taremi to play upfront next to Marega. Taremi scored Porto’s second goal (en route to a 3-1 win) just after the break, with an excellent header off a cross from Sérgio Oliveira.
You could see his movement off the ball was different to any of Porto’s other attackers, he was really good at the link-up play. Despite being mostly known for his goal scoring ability, Taremi has a good eye for the pass and plays well off the striker, coming into midfield to get the ball and helping in the build-up.
After his performance against Portimonense, Taremi became a permanent fixture in the starting line-up (only on the bench in one game after that). He scored 16 goals and made 15 assists, in 34 League games. An incredible record. During that time, he also became the first Iranian to score a goal in the knock-out stages of the Champions League (at home against Juventus) and scored that memorable goal in the quarter-finals.
Overall, Taremi played in 48 games, scored 23 goals and made 18 assists. I would call that an outstanding debut season.
The 2021/22 Season
After a successful debut season, but one in which Porto finished second in the League and only won the Super Cup, the expectations were high coming into the 2021/22 season. Taremi was now the centrepiece of the offence, after the departure of Marega (and later of Luiz Diaz).
Despite Porto’s team success, Taremi had a bit of a slow start, scoring just one goal and making one assist in the first 5 League games of the season. He then scored 6 goals in the next 4 games, but started a goal draught of over 2 months in the League, not scoring between 23rd October and 30th December.
Despite the lack of goals, Taremi continued to start in every game (bar one) and was still a key contributor to the team – he made 4 assists over that period, but more than that, his ability to help in the build-up and his high work rate were absolutely key to the team’s success.
When he finally got back on the scoresheet though, he never looked back. A stellar performance against Benfica on 30th December (one goal and one assist) was the precursor to a run of 13 goals and 8 assists in 17 games in the League. A fantastic record. Despite losing Diaz (the team’s best player by that point) in January, Porto didn’t falter and became Champions. Taremi was Porto’s top goal scorer in all competitions with 26 goals and 17 assists in 48 appearances.
Impact off the pitch
When we first signed him, I hadn’t appreciated how important football is in Iran and how many people follow the career of their players abroad. Immediately after making his debut, Porto’s social media was flooded with Iranian fans. The support has never wavered; if anything, it has gotten stronger – if you look at any Porto posts on the main social media platforms, I would argue at least 50% of comments are from Iranians, which is incredible!
I don’t think I need to explain how important international brand exposure is for a team like Porto in a super small market like Portugal. Taremi has made Porto a well known brand across the Middle East, and that is awesome. We often see Iranian flags in the stands during home games. Porto have even hired an Iranian for their marketing department – definitely not a coincidence! He has been given the moniker of ‘Prince of Persia’, which I believe is very fitting.
But it’s not all roses, of course. Taremi’s style of play has drawn the ire of rival fans, with certain members of the media harping on this notion that Taremi is a ‘diver’ and that he’s conning referees into calling penalties for Porto. There was even an article published on the official website of one of our main rivals by the leader of their most influential fan group (who will remain nameless, so as not to soil this blog post), insulting Taremi with racist remarks.
I dispute those claims; to me, a ‘diver’ is someone who fakes contact to generate fouls (e.g. Cristiano Ronaldo). Taremi does not fake contact. There is not a single penalty that you can point to where Taremi fell to the ground without cause. If you ask me – does he initiate contact at times? Absolutely. He is a master at shielding the ball with his body and forcing the defender into fouling him. Is that against the rules? Absolutely not. Are some of the penalties ‘soft’? Perhaps, but that is up to interpretation of the referee.
In the era of VAR, the referees have more than enough means at their disposal to properly assess the situation. Unfortunately, they have been coerced into not calling blatant fouls. I guess that was the goal of this anti-Taremi campaign. Here’s a clear example in this video – you be the judge. Fortunately, this has not stopped him and Taremi has been on a tear for several months, maintaining a very high level of performance.
2022 and beyond
Taremi has started the season in great form, scoring 4 goals and making 2 assists in 4 games (all competitions). I voted him man of the match in the Super Cup final against Tondela (read here) and also in the first match of the League against Marítimo (and here).
I expect another great season from him and he will be especially motivated to continue to play well and build up confidence, ahead of the World Cup in Qatar. Iran will play against England, Wales and the US in the group stage. I give Iran an outside chance to qualify – England is the favourite, but the other 3 teams are fairly even. I’m sure Taremi will relish the opportunity to showcase his tremendous ability in the grandest stage of them all.
However, he will be 31 years old by the end of this season and will have just one more year left in his contract. I would argue that Porto need to do everything in their power to renew his contract, but he has to want to do it as well. Next summer (or even this winter, after the World Cup), may be his last chance to play in the Premier League or La Liga. I hope he stays, but I don’t know that he will.
For now though, he will continue to be the delight of Porto fans around the world with his goals and assists. Here’s hoping that we’re back here to talk about his 200th appearance for Porto!