The Argus – BRIGHTON, Alireza Jahanbakhsh cannot quite believe he missed 14 weeks of his first Premier League season.
After all, he thought he was only going in for a routine check-up the morning after defeat at Everton.
The idea was to see the medical team after feeling what he thought was cramp in the final seconds at Goodison Park.
Things did not quite turn out how he expected.
A hamstring problem kept him out for his club and limited his contribution to Iran’s Asian Cup campaign.
Now, after a painstaking return to fitness and some disappointment with Iran, he is back in the thick of things and ready to help the Seagulls move away from the drop zone.
Jahanbakhsh is eyeing his first Prem start since early November after FA Cup outings against West Brom and Derby.
Back on that afternoon at Everton, he took corners which led to goals for both teams and had a curler tipped over by Jordan Pickford near the end.
He did a couple of interviews in the tight, mind-your-head confines of the old main stand at Goodison and told The Argus he had felt some discomfort in the back of his thigh.
Asked about the problem, he sounded fairly unconcerned as he told us: “In the last sprint, I just felt a little bit kind of cramp in my hamstring but we will have to check it tomorrow. Hopefully it is not something really bad.”
Actually, it turned out to be something quite bad. His season was put on hold although, even then, it was not clear how much football he would miss.
Jahanbakhsh said: “I didn’t expect it to be that long but it kept me out for more than eight or nine weeks.
“It just happens and it’s part of football. Once I was fit, I had to go for international duties so it was a tough time, to be honest.
“Mentally and physically, it was a tough time but I just passed that difficulty and now I am in good form. I feel good, I need to play more games to get back to confidence.
“It was a rupture in the right leg. Just a normal hamstring doesn’t take that long but it took more than normal for me.
“Even before I went to the Asian Cup, I was fit but it was a risk probably to re-injure it.
“The gaffer didn’t take that risk with me and it came up to international duty and I had to go. It was official time that I had to leave the club.
“Probably it wasn’t the right time because I was really looking forward to getting back to full fitness and playing in games for the club.
“But I had to go and play internationals which was important for the country back home.”
That is what many Albion fans might have been thinking – get back to playing for your club.
But that is to hugely under-estimate and disrespect what the Asian Cup means to the nations involved.
Iran have a huge, passionate support and were among the favourites in the United Arab Emirates.
Those fans probably saw it as rather inconvenient that one of their main players had picked up an injury with his club ahead of a major tournament.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz was careful with Jahanbakhsh, leaving him out of the first two group fixtures.
The winger said: “It was a risk to play probably at the beginning but they were really careful with me and they also promised the club they were going to look after me and not force anything “In the first two games, I didn’t play and in the third I started but I wasn’t playing 90 minutes. It was 65 or 70 minutes which helped me be at full fitness because we had to play every three or four days, which was quite tough.”
Having got out of the group, Iran eased past Oman 2-0 with Jahanbakhsh on target.
They beat China 3-0 but then lost by the same score to Japan in the semis.
Jahanbakhsh was asked whether that time training and relaxing in warm temperatures helped his recovery from injury.
He said: “That doesn’t matter because, as a professional, you have to be ready to play for the country and the club.
“I was there doing my things for the national team but I was also looking forward to getting back to my club.
“Now, finally, I am back. It was a little bit of a disappointing result in the semi-final for us but I just put it behind me and now I’m back and trying to do my best for the club.”
Jahanbakhsh enjoyed his two cup starts and was also sent on in a rescue mission in the league defeat to Burnley.
The latter came exactly 14 weeks after his previous Prem minutes, on that fateful afternoon on Merseyside.
He said: “It was good. The gaffer wanted me to play at No.10 at West Brom and now on the left side.
“It’s good to be flexible and play different positions and it’s good to be back.
“It doesn’t matter as long as you are playing, getting good minutes, playing with the boys, which is always a good feeling.
“Scoring a goal is a target I am looking forward to.
“There have been opportunities but it is not like every ball is going in.
“I tried a couple of times at West Brom and also against Derby but it will come, I am pretty sure.”
When it does, it will probably catch the eye of the Iran coach – whoever that might be.
Queiroz has moved on to take charge of Colombia, leaving a new incumbent for Jahanbakhsh and compatriots to impress.
The Albion man said: “They don’t say any names but everybody is looking forward to seeing who is next.
“The last coach was there for eight years and we did a good job in the national team, winning games and in tournaments.
“Now expectation is high to having a good coach for the national team.”