The Telegraph – LONDON, On a weekend when mental health is the focus of the FA Cup, Brighton’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh hopes not to be quite so happy if he scores for a third time in a week against Sheffield Wednesday.
Jahanbakhsh is the Iranian forward signed for a then club record fee of £17 million who had to wait 27 games and 18 months for his first goal, despite being the Dutch league’s leading scorer in 2017-18 with 21. Only now can we see the distress the long wait caused him.
On Saturday he broke his duck against Bournemouth. Five days later he struck with an equalising bicycle kick against Chelsea that evoked the spirit of Wayne Rooney’s classic overhead goal against Manchester City. Both times, Jahanbakhsh was overwhelmed by emotion and the goodwill of his team-mates.
But he no longer wants to be the surprise scorer who everyone used to pity. “I hope, I can’t promise, but I hope it won’t happen again, to get such emotion,” he says.
Clutching his face and seemingly tearful after both goals, Jahanbakhsh, 26, was exiting a dark phase in which, he says: “I lost myself for a while.”
Back home in Iran, where he lived and played until joining NEC in Holland in 2013, he was expected to carry the nation’s flag in the Premier League. When he faded from view in Chris Hughton’s final season in charge, the disappointment of a country was added to personal anguish.
“The people around me have always been really positive, saying just be patient, you’ll get your chance, you will be as good as you want,” he said at Brighton’s training ground. “There was a lot of negative stuff out there. Back home people weren’t that happy to be honest, because people wanted me to play and football is really big back home. Now I see the same people are coming with different [more positive] comments.”
Jahanbakhsh has reduced the risk of Brighton offloading him; and his manager, Graham Potter, acknowledges the mental strain on a player who had to keep telling himself: “There is a reason that you’re here.”
Potter says: “It must be hard. We were just talking about mental health [the joint FA Cup initiative between Heads Up and Public Health England] – and it must be hard to come [to England] with the pressure and the expectation of being something, and then it doesn’t quite happen for you. You’ve got the personal disappointment. You feel you’re letting people down. To stay and have the clarity of who you are as a player and a person must be difficult. It’s a testimony to him that he’s come through that period really well.
“I think he came for a lot of money. There’s a bit of pressure that comes with that. Then there’s how he plays – playing one way in Holland and then being asked to play a completely different way when he comes to the UK. You’ve also got the fact that the league is a higher league, a better league.
“We got a player that was a bit low in confidence. It hadn’t quite happened for him, he’d probably lost a bit of trust [from] the players and supporters, because he’d had a year when he’d disappointed. When you’re in that situation you’re probably trying too hard, you’re trying to score or assist. You’re just trying to affect the game – to contribute – which is understandable. Sometimes that means you give the ball away, you don’t make the right decision, or you expose your team to transition. I think he’s just really improved, knuckled down, focused on keeping things simple – and he’s getting his rewards because he does have his quality and he can affect the goal.
“I just think it’s been a bit of a long process for him. In a way it’s a great story, to keep persisting, because in the modern game everyone thinks, if it’s not happening we need to find a solution quick and move on to the next one, but he hasn’t done that.”
A disciple of the Brazilian Ronaldo, who he watched “every day” in his youth, Jahanbakhsh venerated the Rooney bicycle kick before he tried it himself. “The goal of Rooney I have looked at a thousand times. It was decent goal. The style was quite the same, but a different angle and different shape. At the moment I was thinking – hit it as hard as you can, but the ball was behind me and a bicycle kick was the only option.”
It was a sweet way for a “lost” player to be found.