Though his family were from Shiraz, Afshin Ghotbi was born in the country's capital Tehran. He is the son of a teacher in Iran  (See below) with whom he left Iran at the age of 13 and moved to Los Angeles, United States of America where he has been a resident for more than two decades. He received his B.Sc. qualification in Electrical Engineering from UCLA where he was a member of the men's soccer team.
Prior to coaching in the professional ranks, for years he was one of the elite coaches in the talent-rich, highly competitive Southern California youth soccer scene, responsible for the discovery and development of players such as Peter Vagenas and John O'Brien.
He worked for Korea Republic national football team under DutchmanGuus Hiddink from December 2000 till July 2002 as a football analyst. He continued his journey in Korea by taking the role of an assistant coach of Samsung Bluewings from 2002–2004. He returned to Korean National Team, as an assistant coach under Dick Advocaat from October 2005 until July 2006. He continued as an assistant coach for Korea under Dutch head coach Pim Verbeek from July 2006 till July 2007.
In 2007 he was Head-Coach of Persepolis F.C., an Iran Pro League club, in compliance with the new contract he signed in August 2007. In February 2008 his name was on the shortlist for coaching the Iranian national team, however the job went to Ali Daei. He ultimately led Persepolis to Iranian Pro league championship in May 2008. Ghotbi left Persepolis in June 2008.
Afshin Ghotbi was re-appointed as the new Persepolis head coach on 3 July 2008, after agreeing to sign a two year deal following meeting Persepolis officials in Dubai.
Following the session held at Persepolis club on 18 November 2008, Ghotbi announced his resignation to the club’s board and left Iran on 19 November 2008. In a letter released on Persepolis’ official website, Ghotbi said, “I returned to Persepolis with great hopes but I think there is a conspiracy outside the club to prevent the team’s success. I am the target of this conspiracy. I love Persepolis and its fans, however I ought to leave the team. I am heartbroken and leave Persepolis in hope of the team’s prosperity. If my presence hinders the success of the team, I would rather leave.” 
After just three weeks after being announced as manager, Mayeli Kohan became the spearhead of a heated dispute between himself and Esteghlal F.C. manager Amir Ghalenoei. This resulted in the IRIFF forcing Mayeli Kohan's resignation as manager of Team Melli. A week later, Afshin Ghotbi agreed to succeed Mayeli Kohan as head coach of the Iranian national team. After this appointment, Ghotbi said in an interview "A life dream, a longtime ambition and a journey written in the stars is about to be realized I have to thank all the people around the world who have cheered, supported and inspired me to have this opportunity, however, under Afshin Ghotbi, Iran failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but his contract has been renewed to continue coaching Team Melli. He continued to coach Team Melli in 2011 AFC Asian Cup qualification where he won 3 matches out of 4 and lost the other one to Jordan Away which he the team earned 13 points and qualified as the group leaders.But he had some results in the friendlies (such as winning against Bosnia-Herzegovina and China and South Korea in their land) which surprisingly caused a lot of criticism and even some people in IRIFF decided to replace him as Iranian coaches and journalists could not accept an American-Iranian success over Team-melli. However, after a few days his job was secured and the Iranian Federation decided to keep him at least up to 2011 Asian Cup .He had poor results in the friendlies at the beginning and then was able qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup and slowly improved the results.In 2010 his team was able to win 8 matches in a row and gain trust.Later on he finished second in West Asian Football Federation Championship 2010.His team won all the three matches in the group stage of 2011 Asian Cup but got knocked out after the extra time goal against Korea Republic. Ghotbi officially resigned after the match and his assistant Ali Reza Mansourian was appointed as caretaker manager of the national football team until the appointment of Carlos Queiroz.
After the Asian Cup, Ghotbi signed three-year contract with Japan's J. League Division 1 side Shimizu S-Pulse. He led the team for the end of 2011 seasion which ended in the tenth rank. In his second season at the club, his team started the league very successfully but later on they lost their form and finished the league in 9th place with one progress. They also reached the final game of J. League Cup but lost 1–2 to Kashima Antlers.
At the time of his arrival in Iran some media outlets reported that Afshin is the son of former National Iranian Radio and Television director Reza Ghotbi, the cousin of Farah Pahlavi. The rumor was widely circulated on the net and in the Iranian discussion forums because of its political sensitivity in Iran. However, that account was challenged by other Iranian newspapers by showing that in Ghotbi's birth certificate, his father's name is Mohammad, not Reza. Ghotbi himself has mentioned that his father was a teacher in Iran and that they left Iran in 1977.