Brighton must figure out what to do with Alireza Jahanbakhsh this summer

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90 Min – BRIGHTON, It is fair to say that Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s two seasons at Brighton have not worked out how either player or club would have liked. Two goals and zero assists in 36 appearances is hardly a good return for an individual who cost a club record fee of £17m in the summer of 2018.

Jahanbakhsh arrived at the Amex Stadium from AZ Alkmaar, where he had plundered 21 goals to finish as the Eredivisie’s top scorer in the 2017/18 season. Given that Brighton fought off competition from Leicester, who viewed Jahanbakhsh as a possible replacement for the Manchester City bound Riyad Mahrez, the signing looked like quite a coup for the Seagulls.

History shows that bringing players in from the Netherlands is a risky business, however. For every Luis Suarez or Ruud van Nistelrooy arriving straight from the Dutch top flight to take England by storm, there is a Vincent Janssen, a Memphis Depay or a Ricky van Wolfswinkel. The step up in standard from the Eredivisie to English football is bigger than many appreciate.

Brighton themselves have been burned by it before. Six months prior to Jahanbakhsh’s arrival, the Seagulls splashed out £14m for PSV Eindhoven’s Jurgen Locadia. Fast forward two years and Locadia was being quietly packed off to Major League Soccer’s FC Cincinnati. Elvis Manu, Danny Holla and Roland Bergkamp are other failed Dutch imports to Sussex.

Davy Propper is the Seagulls’ only direct acquisition from the Netherlands who can be considered a success in the past decade. It will be interesting to see how summer signing from Ajax Joel Veltman gets on at the Amex following his £900,000 move from Ajax.

But for Jahanbakhsh, there have always been excuses for his struggles. The 2018/19 season yielded zero goals and zero assists from 24 games. Chris Hughton copped most of the blame from those looking to explain Jahanbakhsh’s disappointing debut campaign – his negative tactics were apparently stifling a gifted attacking player from making any sort of impact in a Brighton shirt.

The appointment of Graham Potter last summer was meant to unleash Jahanbakhsh’s potential, but if anything, he has gone backwards. Potter did not give Jahanbakhsh a Premier League start until 28 December, when Bournemouth were beaten 2-0 at the Amex. Jahanbakhsh scored the first that afternoon and followed it up three days later with a stunning bicycle kick against Chelsea, one of the contenders for the Premier League Goal of the Season award.

After two goals in two games, the hope was that Jahanbakhsh had turned a corner. He had shown Potter what he could do. The monkey was off his back and he would now kick on to deliver something approaching his AZ form which convinced Brighton to smash their transfer record.

That has not really happened. By the end of the 2019/20 season, Jahanbakhsh had started just three Premier League matches with a further seven appearances from the bench. Most telling was that even when five substitutions were allowed in the final nine games of the season, Jahanbakhsh received just 21 minutes of game time. 20 of those came when Brighton were already 4-0 down against Manchester City and he was a token 89th minute introduction in the final day win at Burnley.

The excuse used for Jahanbakhsh’s disappointing 2019/20 was that Potter did not use wingers and so there was no obvious place for him in the starting line up. This is not entirely true. Potter played 4-4-2 at times in 2019/20, albeit with pretty limited success compared to his favoured 4-2-2-2 or the 3-4-3 which started the campaign. Claiming that Jahanbakhsh struggled because Brighton do not play with width also ignores the fact that the Iranian was used on the right of a front three at AZ. In Potter’s 3-4-3 or the 4-3-3 he also fields on occasions, there is a role for Jahanbakhsh to fill.

Rather than positional problems, Jahanbakhsh’s troubles seem to stem from the fact that Potter does not rate him. If he did, then Jahanbakhsh would feature on the bench at the very least. Potter likes to have options; he is a tactically flexible coach who will often finish a game with a different formation to which he started. If Potter liked Jahanbakhsh, then the Iranian would not have had to wait until December for his first league minutes of the season.

You might think that a £17m forward who has managed just two goals in 36 matches would be a target for supporters’ abuse and frustration. For the first 18 months of his Brighton career, Jahanbakhsh was on the receiving end of a lot of criticism. But once he scored against Bournemouth, that all changed. When his third minute strike hit the back of the net, the Iranian sank to his knees and burst into tears at the joy and relief of finally getting his first Premier League goal.

It was impossible not to want him to succeed after that. Being a Premier League footballer clearly means so much to him and his attitude has been exemplary. While other players would happily sit in the stands, picking up their hefty weekly wage while doing nothing to attempt to turn their form around – as was the case with Locadia, who seemed more intent on concentrating on his part time music career than his full time football career – Jahanbakhsh never complained about his lack of game time.

He got his head down and kept working hard for an opportunity. The media glare from football mad Iran on their one Premier League player is understandably intense and Jahanbakhsh is constantly asked about his future. His answer is always the same – he has no desire to leave Brighton as he wants to prove himself in England.

Jahanbakhsh’s attitude is commendable, but the situation is now approaching the point where it might be in all parties’ interests for the winger to move on. Ajax have been linked and a return to the Netherlands could help Jahanbakhsh reignite a career that does not seem to be going anywhere at Brighton. His chances of turning things around seem even more remote in 2020/21 as Potter is likely to play Lewis Dunk, Adam Webster and Ben White as a back three, reducing the need for wingers at the Amex even further.

To offload Jahanbakhsh, Brighton will need to accept that they are going to make a significant loss. No club is going to come close to matching the £17m the Seagulls paid. That may make the Seagulls reluctant to do business, especially given the hit they are set to take on Locadia should his loan switch to the MLS be turned permanent.

Despite the financial implications of allowing Jahanbakhsh to leave, Brighton should do what they can to facilitate a move if the interest is there. His professionalism and attitude has been as good as any player that the Seagulls have had on their books and if Potter does not feel that Jahanbakhsh is good enough, then he deserves to be at a club who can provide him with the sort of regular opportunities that are lacking at the Amex.


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