Alireza Jahanbakhsh: The Iranian breaking new ground in Europe

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Its Round and Its White – Northamptonshire, Throughout history, Iranian sports was all body-building and freestyle wrestling. Persian kids bragged about flesh. Some didn’t, however. Today, football has taken over. Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the torch-bearer for football in Iran.

Iranian football is at its highest point ever. Although they’ve fallen considerably short on the continent, global recognition seems a better motivation. Team Melli was among the earliest birds to build a nest in Russia, no doubt foes will be scared of how they pulled through. Played 18, lost none; a fantastic record. Cadres lower, they’re equally as dominating.

As a unit, Carlos Queiroz’s men are formidable. Individually, however, they are somewhere around English third-tier. Bereft of big names. Bulk shuttles home and neighbouring nations to make a living. While few who break that circle are lost in obscure leagues. Skipper Ashkan Dejagah is picking pieces left in his career at Nottingham Forest. But Jahanbakhsh is proving an exception to the rule while out in the Netherlands.

Like most of his compatriots, Jahanbakhsh’s charity began at home with local side, Damash Gilan in 2008. Three years later, he was trawled by affiliate team, Gilan. Two seasons was enough for European scouts to start cowering before him.

Ten goals in 42 appearances, along with a number of eye-catching performances for his country’s youth teams, including five goals in four games in the qualification for the 2012 AFC Under-19 Championships, particularly interested N.E.C. He was promptly signed in 2013; Iran’s third export to the Netherlands.

While the club struggled on the pitch, ultimately relegated at season’s end, Jahanbakhsh thrived, scoring six times and providing five assists in 33 matches. Playing in the second-tier only hastened his development as he helped N.E.C. return swiftly, doubling his proficiency at the final third. Holland’s top sides were on red-alert.

A five-year deal with AZ Alkmaar followed. There, he has become the Eredivisie’s most exciting creative midfielder. Crafting goals for pleasure while burying them if need be. So much pace to burn on the flanks, Jahanbakhsh is far from a one-trick-pony flanker. With poise aplenty, he has great game awareness and knows what to do in the right moments. For a player who only stands at 5’9, his aerial ability is surprisingly strong, making him a weapon all over the park.

It took a while for these attributes to spring forth in Alkmaar, though. But when it did, it came pumping like adrenaline. Last season, he notched 11 goals as AZ finished sixth and reached the Cup final. For his telling contributions, Jahanbakhsh was named the division’s best winger. A first from Persia.

This season, however, is proving more productive. He’s surpassed last season’s tally already and more influential in attack with eight assists. Just Hirving Lozano and Steven Berghuis have contributed more to their respective teams after 23 matches. Alongside both, the 24-year-old is an early favourite for Player of the Year. For obvious reasons, Alkmaar will be praying he doesn’t. Just one of the last 16 recipients stayed put at their clubs.

That will be inevitable should Jahanbakhsh maintain his fine form until the season’s end, even worse if he carries it further to Russia.

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