Brighton&HoveAlbion.com – BRIGHTON, Albion midfielder talks us through his early days as a footballer.
Like all budding footballers, Alireza Jahanbakhsh had an idol he looked up to.
Here he talks us through the early days of his career that remarkably included sharing the same pitch with an Iran international he’d admired from a young age.
Who was your first footballing hero?
The most important games that I remember were the qualification matches for Iran to get into the 1998 World Cup in France. I was five or six years old and remember watching to see how they did.
Iran did well in the qualification and people were really excited about the games. My family are big football fans and we all watched them.
That generation has been one of the best ever that played for the country. We had a player called Mehdi Mahdavikia who was always my idol. He played in Germany for 12 years.
When I was a bit older I remember the 2002 World Cup, the Brazilian Ronaldo was my biggest idol then. I was now playing football myself with my friends and I was always trying to act like him.
What was your first football shirt?
Before football I played a lot of different sports! At six or seven I did gymnastics for two years and I loved it at the time. That was when I wore my first proper sporting outfit.
Then at the age of nine or 10 I went to a class for self defence, and from the age of 11 I started to play sports with a ball. I played handball, indoor football and lots more sports.
My first jersey was for my school. I remember they gave us a full outfit with top, shorts and trainers. I loved it at the time, and it was a great feeling when I wore it.
At what age did football become your main focus?
I was very close to playing indoor football after I had been selected for the national team. There was a tournament for under-15s that I was invited to when I was only 12.
I was the top scorer during the year and really enjoyed it. I made the national team and from age 13 moved to an academy in my home town. I played there for a year and then went to try out for the under-15 national side.
I didn’t get selected, so my football started then really. I played in the third division back home and the moved to Tehran to a small club for a year and progressed to the first team and the first division of the Iranian League.
You made your Iranian Pro League debut at the age of 17 for Damish Gilan, becoming one of their youngest ever players – what was that like?
It was amazing to be honest. I was young and wanted to get as many minutes as possible in the first division.
I wanted to learn and progress. Funnily enough the year I broke into the side, the player I mentioned earlier whom I looked up to, Mehdi Mahdavikia, was returning from Germany! He played in right midfield and I played right-back in my first game. I couldn’t believe it. It really was a dream come true for me to play against one of my first heroes.
I played there for another season and enjoyed a really good campaign, and then I moved on to Holland in 2013.