Daei was born in Ardabil, Iran and is an Iranian Azerbaijani. Daei graduated from Sharif University of Technology in Materials Engineering (Metallurgical) with a B.Sc. degree. Born in Ardabil, he played for his hometown club, Esteghlal Ardabil, when he was 19. His next club was Taxirani F.C. in Tehran, where he played for one season, before joining another Tehrani club, Bank Tejarat FC. He stayed four years with Bank Tejarat, missing out on a chance to play in the J.League due to military service. Daei's fame is attributed mostly to his renowned goal scoring ability. He managed to score frequently for his clubs, although due to the league schedule at the time he did not play many matches per season. His impressive performance at his club finally got results.
After playing for a couple of minor league teams, Taxirani and Bank Tejarat, in 1994 Daei joined one of country's premier squads, Persepolis Following his impressive performance in Asian Cup in 1996 as Arminia Bielefeld joined the Bundesliga, they signed a contract with Daei and his fellow Iranian national team-mate Karim Bagheri.
Daei became the first Asian player to feature in a UEFA Champions League match. Yet at Bayern he found himself low in the pecking order. This coupled with the Iranian national team's scheduling, Daei had found very little time for playing. Daei was unhappy with his position in the club and decided to make a move to Hertha BSC before the end of his three-year contract, when Bayern won the championship title in the 1999 Bundesliga. He scored his first and second goal in the UEFA Champions League on 22 September 1999 in group stage match against Chelsea won by Hertha with 2–1. His famous match against Chelsea gained him a lot of recognition. Yet even at Hertha he was not a hugely important player, since he was only amongst one of the squad's many successful players, who were to fulfill Hertha's Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League dreams.
Daei was playing in numerous continental friendlies against world class opposition, yet was still unable to maintain a stable position in his club's starting line-up. In 2001, he was not among the top scorers in the Asian Qualifying round and he did not manage to take the team into the World Cup as captain for the first time. He joined the UAE league at 34 years of age, signing a contract with Al-Shabab as a free agent. In 2003, Daei quit the UAE team and joined his old team in Tehran, Persepolis. Daei moved from Persepolis to Saba Battery on a free transfer for a modest contract of around $300,000.
He spent two years at Saba Battery, scoring 23 goals, winning the Hazfi Cup and participating in the Asian Champions League. After World Cup 2006 and the arrival of Saba Battery's new manager, Farhad Kazemi, it was announced that he was no longer needed on the team and his contract would not be renewed. Despite rumours of retirement, he signed for another industry-linked club from Tehran, Saipa, on 1 August 2006.
On 6 March 2007, Ali Daei was fined $2000 and suspended for four games by the Iranian Football Federation after the incidents in a league game where he delivered a head-butt to the face of Sheys Rezaei.
On 28 May 2007, after Saipa won the 2006–07 Persian Gulf Cup in a match vs Mes Kerman, Daei announced his retirement from playing club football and that he would concentrate on his coaching career.
Daei was called up to join Team Melli on 6 June 1993 in an ECO Cup tournament held in Tehran, where he made his debut for Iran against Pakistan. He continued his national team appearances and was named the top scorer of the final Asian round of 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifications with 4 goals in 5 matches.
Despite criticism, Daei played in the 2006 FIFA World Cup; the criticisms, however, were more so toward his fitness and the inability for younger players to play a part in the World Cup. From Iranian media calling for his retirement, Ali Daei has always defended his position in Team Melli and has rejected that he was too old to play for the team.1 includes 2 matches in Naghsh-e-Jahan Cup.
2 includes 2 goals in the match of Iranian Super Cup in 2005.
3 excluding statistics in UAE President's Cup and Emir of Qatar Cup
Daei was named the world's top scorer in official international competitions by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS), having scored 20 goals in competitive matches for Iran in 1996, including his famous 4 goal haul against South Korea in Asian Cup 1996. By the end of the 1996 Asian Cup, he had scored 29 goals in 38 appearances for Iran. In the 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign, he was again on top of the charts, scoring 9 goals in 17 matches for Iran, reaching his impressive record of 38 goals in 52 appearances for his country. He is ranked first in most goals in international matches.
Ali Daei joined the exclusive circle of players with a century of caps. In a 28 November 2003 Asian Cup qualifier in Tehran against Lebanon, he scored his 85th international goal, elevating him past Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskás to top the all-time list of scorers in international matches. On 17 November 2004, he scored four goals against Laos in a World Cup qualifier, giving him 102 goals and making him the first male player to score 100 goals in international play. He has 149 caps for Iran and is ranked 21st among the world's most capped players list.
On 8 October 2006, upon sudden leave of Saipa's German coach Werner Lorant, he was appointed as the interim coach of Saipa. He was later officially announced as the full-time head coach. On 28 May, Saipa became the Persian Gulf Cup champions in Daei's first season at the helm. Going into his second season as manager Daei relinquished his playing duties for the defending champions and found himself on the sidelines full-time. The results of Saipa's 2007–2008 campaign were not nearly as successful as his team finished 11th in the 18 team Iran Pro League table. However Daei did lead Saipa to an Asian Champions League quarterfinal birth before leaving to take over as the full-time manager of the Iranian national football team.
On 2 March 2008 IRIFF officially appointed Ali Daei as Team Melli's new head coach. Despite admitting that his appointment as manager of the Iranian national team was a "surprise", Daei refused to leave his current coaching job at Saipa F.C., therefore taking on dual managerial careers until after Saipa had entered the Asian Champion League quarterfinals, after which Daei left Saipa by mutual consent. While Daei guided Iran to a respectable 16–6–3 mark, his third loss on 28 March 2009 to a Saudi Arabian team that was down 1–0 to Iran in Tehran proved to be the final straw. During his tenure as the National Team coach, the Iranian team managed the weakest World Cup Qualification results in its history with only one win out of 5 WCQ games. After the loss in the 2010 World Cup Qualifier, Daei was fired as head coach after the match. While introducing many new players such as Gholamreza Rezaei, and Ehsan Hajysafi, Daei's squad was often in flux as to who would be invited to a fixture. As well, many critics pointed towards the failures of Daei's team to score and an unsolved weakness in the central defense as causes for his downfall.
In 2009, Daei turned down a job offer as manager of Rah Ahan. It was widely believed that Daei could be next in-line for the coaching position of Persepolis but the club chose Zlatko Kranjčar. On 28 December 2009 Daei was chosen as coach of Persepolis. At the end of the 2009–10 Season, Persepolis finished fourth in the league but they became Hazfi Cup champions. In the Hazfi Cup final, Persepolis defeated Azadegan League side Gostaresh Foolad Tabriz 4–1 on aggregate to qualify for the 2011 AFC Champions League. In the 2010–11 season, Persepolis finished fourth in the league and was eliminated in the group stage of the 2011 AFC Champions League but at the end of the season Persepolis won the 2010–11 Hazfi Cup after defeating rivals Sepahan, Foolad and Malavan. Daei had many people against him while at Persepolis including the chairman Habib Kashani and after a contention with Kashani, he stated that "I won't work with Kashani Anymore". On 20 June 2011, Technical committee of Perspolis re-appointed Daei as Persepolis's head coach but he resigned on 21 June. The technical committee chose Hamid Estili as Daei's successor on that day. During his time at Persepolis, Daei brought up many youngsters such as Hamidreza Ali Asgari and Saman Aghazamani and other players such as Hadi Norouzi and Maziar Zare were chosen for Team Melli thanks to Daei. Despite the fact that many challenges and difficulties such as the leaders of fans and the clubs' Chairman Kashani were in Daei's way, Persepolis was crowned Hazfi Cup Champions for two successive years and the fans themselves always loved and cheered Daei but at the same time they did not cheer for any player. Under the management of Daei, Persepolis won back to back trophies for the first time in 13 seasons.
On 14 July 2011, Daei signed a one-year contract as head coach of Rah Ahan. In his first match as head coach of Rah Ahan, he made a 2–2 draw with Zob Ahan. In his first season as Rah Ahan's head coach, he led the club to the 11th position.
During the 2012–13 season Ali Daei used many young players such as Mojtaba Shiri and Omid Alishah, and Rah Ahan finished the season in the 8th place which was the clubs' best finish in the league since 1937. Thanks to Daei's popularity, more people started to watch Rah Ahan's matches, and for the second straight year, Daei was able to beat his former club Persepolis.
Despite many rumors that Daei will leave Rah Ahan for other clubs such as Persepolis or Tractor Sazi, he decided to stay with the club "to build a team that can qualify for the AFC Champions League." However, his contract was terminated on 20 May 2013, making ways for him to become head coach of Persepolis.
On 20 May 2013, he signed a three year contract to become head coach of Persepolis after a long negotiation. It was the second time that he signed with Persepolis, he returned to his former side after two seasons. He officially began his work with Persepolis on 1 June 2013. His first match came against Tractor Sazi, which Persepolis won 1–0 with the goal coming from Mehdi Seyed Salehi. At the end of his first year at Persepolis, his side finished runners-up, two points less than champions Foolad.
He was sacked on 10 September 2014 after a poor start of 2014–15 season.
On 1 July 2015, Daei became head coach of Saba Qom, signing a two-year contract. In two seasons with Saba he finished ninth and seventh in the Persian Gulf Pro League. He left Saba a few weeks before the start of the 2016–17 season due to uncertainty in the Saba's ownership situation.
Daei became manager of Naft Tehran on 5 July 2016 with signing a two-year contract, replacing Alireza Mansourian.As of 22 September 2017
Falagh Cup: 1988-89
Iran Pro League: 1995–96
UEFA Champions League: 1998–99 Runner up
Hazfi Cup: 2004–05
Super Cup: 2005
Iran Pro League: 2006–07
AFC Asian Cup: 1996 Third Place, 2004 Third Place
Asian Games: 1998, 2002
AFC/OFC Cup Challenge: 2003
WAFF Championship: 2004
Eco Cup: 1993
LG Cup: 2001, 2002
Iran Pro League: 2006–07
WAFF Championship: 2008
Hazfi Cup: 2009–10, 2010–11
Shohada Cup: 2016
Hazfi Cup: 2016–17
Asian Footballer of the Year: 1999
Top goalscorer of AFC Asian Cup: 1996 (8 goals)
Top goalscorer of Asian Games: 1998 (9 goals)
Top goalscorer of the Iran Pro League: 2003–04 (16 goals)
IFFHS World's Top international Goal scorer of all Time: 109
IFFHS World's Top international Goal scorer of the Year: 2000 (20 goals)
Order of Courage: 2005
Top 100 Greatest Ever Footballers: 2007
World Soccer 50th Player of all Time: 2010
Asian Football Hall of Fame: 2014
Iranian Manager of the Year: 2008
Asides from his great sportsmanship on the pitch, Daei ran many charitable organisations and used a great deal of his money in support of the less fortunate. Today Daei owns his own football jersey manufacturing company called Daei Sport's Wears & Equipments, making sportswear for Iran sporting clubs in various fields and league clubs worldwide. His company also made jerseys for the national team. He has made very significant charitable donations and has made appearances in charity football matches worldwide (featuring in the World vs. Bosnia match with Roberto Baggio and other football legends). He also appeared in a UNICEF commercial with superstar David Beckham and Madeleine Albright, and has regularly been seen working with the organisation. He is also very famous for being a "gentleman", the name which was given to him even in Germany where he used to play, because of his moderate behaviour.
Daei featured on 18 July 2007 in 90 Minutes for Mandela, a match between the Africa XI and the Rest of World XI to celebrate the birthday of Nelson Mandela. Daei played approximately 10 minutes in the match which ended 3–3.
Besides his footballing career, Ali Daei also owns Daei Sport, his company provides clothing for several Iranian football clubs and previously for the Iran national football team. In 2005, he married Mona Farokhazari, a former classmate from Sharif University in a lavish ceremony in the north of Tehran where many of his fans were standing in the nearby streets to cheer him. Some photos of his wedding ceremony were later published without his permission which caused controversy inside the country. The couple has one daughter, Noura, who was born in 2009.
He has helped fund a sports complex in his home city of Ardabil called the Ali Daei Sports Complex that opened in May 2008.
On 17 March 2012, Daei's car overturned as he was driving back to Tehran (from Isfahan). Just prior, his team, Rah Ahan was beaten by the Sepahan team. Daei was then transferred to a hospital near Kashan. Rah Ahan's Media Officer, Hossein Ghadousi stated that "Daei is in a stable condition with regards to his vital signs and is not currently in any acute danger as a result of the accident". He was transferred to Laleh hospital in Tehran the following day.
A statement from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said: "The AFC wishes Iranian legend Ali Daei, who was involved in a car accident on Saturday, a speedy and full recovery. We stand ready to assist Daei, who is a true icon of Asian football. Our thoughts and prayers are with him."
Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, said on his personal Twitter page that he was shocked to hear Daei was injured. He also sent his best wishes for his recovery.
On 7 April 2008, Daei announced that he had begun writing an autobiography, due to be released in March 2010, and that despite reflecting on "bitter and sweet memories" he stated he would "keep some of his secrets in his heart forever". The book has not yet been released.