Asia's Biggest Rivalries: Carlos Queiroz explains El Clasico vs the Tehran Derby
Carlos Queiroz has witnessed both. As Real Madrid coach in the 2003-04 season, the Mozambique-born manager saw the planet’s biggest game from the hottest seat in the house – the bench.
As the national team coach of Iran since 2011, he has seen plenty of games between Persepolis and Esteghlal, known as the Tehran Derby.
It is the biggest game in Asia, there is no doubt. I have never seen anything like this anywhere else in Asia
His memories of his time at the Bernabeu are still fresh and the former Manchester United assistant will never forget the meetings with the Blaugrana.
“The passion when Barcelona and Real Madrid meet is absolutely special and there is nothing else like it in the world of football," Queiroz told FourFourTwo.
To Queiroz, however, the Iranian clash is not so far behind though.
“It is the biggest derby, the biggest game in Asia, there is no doubt,” Queiroz, who has coached in Japan and the United Arab Emirates, said.
“I have never seen anything like this anywhere else in Asia. During my time in Japan there were some derby games that were bigger than normal J.league games but there was nothing to come close.
“The Tehran Derby is special.”
When Persepolis and Esteghlal meet, there are 100,000 watching in the iconic Azadi Stadium. Around the country and the world, millions of Iranian diaspora tune in to watch the two giants, one red and the other blue, slug it out.
There are two aspects of El Clasico that, according to Queiroz, give Barcelona and Real's ding-dongs the edge.
The first is that while Persepolis may have traditionally represented the working-class of Tehran, with the middle-classes getting behind Esteghlal, there is more at stake off the pitch on the Iberian peninsula.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, a region that is part of Spain but one that has a fierce identity of its own. Madrid is the country’s capital, seat of government and monarchy. The historical aspects of that relationship adds an extra dimension.
“With Barcelona, there are issues other than sport. There are cultural, regional and political issues that make the game a little more hot. It gives the game real meaning and not only for fans of the two teams but for those who may not usually be so interested in football,” Queiroz explains.
The second is the standard. Nobody would dispute that when it comes to the talent on display, the titans from Tehran can’t compete with their Spanish counterparts, but then very few teams can.
One can only imagine how fans in Tehran would react if they could watch the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez every week.
You can't escape the day after. You just have to face it ... if you are a Persepolis fan you will meet Esteghlal fans
“Of course, with Barcelona and Real Madrid, the game is played at a higher level,” said Queiroz. “Often when the two teams play, you are seeing the best two teams in the world. You have the best and most famous players and that gives it a worldwide meaning that Tehran does not have.”
But then Persepolis vs Esteghlal has its own advantages over the Spanish epic.
“In another way the Tehran Derby can be more interesting as when you have two teams from the same city then you have other issues that can create a huge and complex atmosphere.”
Barcelona and Madrid are situated about 600 kilometres apart. If fans of the losing team can somehow avoid the media for a few days, they can perhaps ride out the despair of defeat. Not so in Tehran.
“You can't escape the day after. You just have to face it. The next day you have to take the bus, you have to go to the office or your school and if you are a Persepolis fan you will meet Esteghlal fans and if you are an Esteghlal fan you will meet a Persepolis fan. You can't avoid it.”
This is also the case in terms of the pre-match build-up, with the sense of anticipation building in Tehran in the weeks, days and hours before the game.
It is a special game. You have to see it and then you can understand
“It is unbelievable. You can feel the tension in the city, you just feel it in the air. It doesn't matter how the teams are playing at the time, it is always a special game for the players.”
But while it is a derby, it is also about more than a city.
“Persepolis and Esteghlal is not like Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, this is a national game,” Queiroz concludes.
“Both teams have 20 million fans. It is a huge event all over the country.
“It is a special game. You have to see it and then you can understand.”