BRIAN SCIARETTA - Thursday, July 11, 2013
The 2013 summer transfer window is still young but no other American is likely to make as bold of a move as Diego Chavarri who is heading to Iran on a season long loan to play for Gostaresh Foolad FC.
Chavarri, 24, has played his entire career in Peru and was most recently with Union Comercio in the Peruvian Primera Division. He came up through the youth program at Sporting Cristal, one of Peru's biggest clubs, and eventually blossomed as a talented wing. His success at Cristal was short-lived as series of knee injuries took their toll and he left for the small club Cobresol.
Like many Peruvian clubs outside of Lima, Cobresol was financially struggling to play players and Chavarri left after not getting paid. At Union Comercio, Chavarri showed glimpses of his former self but the move to Iran will be a challenge for him to step away from his familiar surroundings and make a fresh start in a country that is polar opposite of Peru.
"When I heard it was a possibility to come to Iran, I was kind of surprised because Iran is a country really far from Peru," Chavarri told YA from Iran. "I knew almost nothing about Iranian soccer but it was important to play outside of Peru. I think it will help me a lot to show my type of game and reach my goals. Maybe I'll continue playing here or move to another country in a more important league."
The move to Iran came as a surprise to many but the move was actually a long time coming. His agent has Iranian roots and is familiar with many teams throughout the country. In 2012 there was interest from clubs in Iran but Chavarri was still focused on playing in Peru.
In April Gostaresh Foolad FC earned promotion to the Iran Pro League (IPL) and Chavarri became a target for the club in its effort to bolster its roster to compete in the country's top tier. Gostaresh Foolad FC is a new club founded in 2008 and is based in Tabriz, Iran's fourth largest city with a population of 2 million people located in the northern part of the country.
Chavarri was born in New York City but was raised in Peru where his parents are from. He still has family in the United States and maintains close contacts with them. In 2011 he was invited to participate in a US U-23 camp but was unable to attend due to injury. By joining Gostaresh Foolad, Chavarri is the only American-born player in the IPL. He has only been with the club since early July and enjoys the new culture but admits he is homesick at times.
"I'm doing well here," Chavarri said. "I am missing my country and my family a lot but things are not too much different than Peru. The food is normal and delicious. The streets are good. I'm enjoying being here. The people are so nice and friendly with me. The language is the most difficult part but some of my friends and the coaches speak English. That makes it a little easier to communicate."
One thing Iran offers Chavarri is the opportunity to focus completely on soccer. At Gostaresh Foolad Chavarri is in a unique situation. Not only is the only American or Peruvian on the team, he's the only foreigner on the club's entire roster. He is still in the process of looking a place to live and is currently residing at a hotel near the team's headquarters.
His daily life so far is much different than in Peru.
"My days here are fine," Chavarri said. "There's training in the morning, followed by lunch. Then I sleep a few hours before training in the afternoon. I'm eating well and it's very professional. It's nothing different for a soccer player. In my free time I connect to my blackberry and chat with my family, my friends. Or I'm on my laptop listening to music, or seeing my family by Skype."
He added with a joke: "Maybe I walk in the city a little but no too far from the hotel. I don't know the streets well. Maybe I'll get lost."
On the field, Chavarri is also going through a period of adjustment. In his first venture outside of Peru to play soccer, he notices the difference in the style of play but also that the quality of the IPL is very impressive.
"The type of game is perhaps different with more pressing and things like that," Chavarri pointed out. "But the level here is high and Gostaresh has good, quality players"
The 2013/14 season will be Gostaresh Foolad's first ever season in Iran's top tier. Last year it earned promotion with an exceptional season in the second tier, the Azadegan League. In the 26 game season, Gostaresh earned a first place finish securing 50 points while scoring 44 goals and conceding just 25.
This year the competition will be tougher but Chavarri is adamant that from what he's seen in the past two weeks, Gostaresh Foolad will be a solid team in the IPL.
"I think players and coaches are very motivated and want to show what we can do this year," Chavarri concluded. "I think, apart being a new team in the first division, we are going to do well this season. We want to be one of the best teams here in Iran this season and we have everything here to reach that goal."
The first step for Chavarri and Gostaresh Foolad FC in the IPL is a challenging one as it will host defending champion Esteghlal in the season opener on July 25.