From humble beginnings, immensely talented midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh has the world at his feet, as Paul Williams explains...
The 60-second story
Born in the tiny town of Jirandeh in the mountainous Armalu District in northern Iran, Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s career started in humble surrounds when he joined the youth academy of local club Damash Gilan.
- Date of birth: August 11, 1993
- Place of birth: Jirandeh, Iran
- Height: 1.80m
- Position: Attacking midfielder
- Current club: AZ Alkmaar
After a brief spell with Damash Tehran, an affiliate of Gilan, he returned to his parent club in 2011 and made his Iranian Pro League debut as a 17-year-old in a 1-1 draw against Mes Kerman, making him one of the youngest players in the club’s history.
Ten goals in 42 appearances for Damash Gilan, along with a number of eye-catching performances for Iran’s under-20 and under-23 national teams, including five goals in four games in the qualification for the 2012 AFC Under-19 Championships, caught the attention of Dutch side N.E.C.
The talented winger was promptly signed to a three-year deal in July 2013.
While the club struggled on the pitch and was ultimately relegated at season’s end, Jahanbakhsh excelled, scoring six times and providing five assists in 33 matches.
Playing in the second-tier Eerste Divisie only hastened his development as he helped N.E.C. gain promotion back to the Eredivisie with 12 goals in 28 matches, which caught the attention of some of Holland’s bigger clubs.
A move to AZ Alkmaar on a five-year contract was sealed in August last year, and while he struggled for a spot in the side at the start of this season, he has since established himself as a regular for the two-time Eredivisie champions. He already has 19 appearances and scored two goals, his first coming in January this year against his former club N.E.C.
Why you need to know him
Alongside fellow whiz-kid Sardar Azmoun, Jahanbakhsh will be the star of the Iranian national team for the next decade. In a country that demands success and entertaining football, the pacy winger has all the attributes to be a long-term standout for Team Melli, with some likening him to former Iranian legend and 2003 Asian Player of the Year Mehdi Mahdavikia.
As the top-ranked team in Asia, Iran will be expecting to qualify for their second consecutive FIFA World Cup and after playing only a bit-part in Brazil (44 minutes in total), the 22-year-old Jahanbakhsh will want to play a leading role on the road to Russia, and in the tournament itself if Iran qualifies.
Fellow national team youngster Sardar Azmoun is thrilled by the prospect of playing alongside him for the next decade
Like the aforementioned Mahdavikia, Jahanbakhsh has pace to burn on the flanks, primarily on the right, but is far from being a one-trick-pony. He knows how to finish and has both an excellent crossing ability, the avenue of a lot of his assists, and the ability to find the back of the net, with a calmness in front of goal. With poise that belies his tender age, he has great game awareness and knows what to do in the right moments.
And for a player who only stands at 180cm, his aerial ability is surprisingly strong, making him a weapon all over the park.
While he is strong in the air for his small stature, his small physique can see him bumped off the ball too easily at times against more physical defenders. To make up for this he can commit quite a few fouls, with five yellow cards already this season for AZ following on from nine yellows and one red card in his two seasons with N.E.C.
It’s not just fans that are excited by Jahanbakhsh, fellow national team youngster Azmoun, who is generating just as much excitement in Tehran, is also thrilled by the prospect of playing alongside the winger for Team Melli for the next decade.
“Jahanbakhsh and me have been doing well. We are great friends and hope to serve the country for a long period of time.”
Did you know?
Mahdavikia, the player some Iranian fans think Jahanbakhsh can emulate, was partly responsible for the then 20-year-old making the move to Europe. He encouraged the young star, who was his teammate at Damash Gilan in 2011-12, to take the plunge and ignore more lucrative offers from the likes of Iranian giants Persepolis, even visiting him in Holland to ensure he had settled in.
And while he admits to some initial struggles, settle in he did. After being named behind only Memphis Depay as the best young player in the Eredivisie in the 2013-14 season, Jahanbakhsh went one better in 2014-15 when he won the Golden Ball as the player of the season in the Eerste Divisie with 12 goals and 18 assists from 28 matches.
What happens next?
With qualification for Russia a distinct possibility, he would (have) the perfect window to impress bigger clubs
Jahanbakhsh has said he prefers to stay in Holland to develop his career, knocking back offers from France and Turkey before signing with N.E.C. in 2013, and with a five-year contract with AZ Alkmaar under his belt he certainly has a chance to do that.
“I always follow my heart. I had offers from France and Turkey, but didn’t accept them. I was also close to a move to Persepolis, the biggest club in Iran, but preferred to play abroad," he said recently.
Still only 22, the right-winger has the world at his feet. With Iran about to enter into the final round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Jahanbakhsh will likely play an increased role in Carlos Queiroz’s side.
With qualification for Russia a distinct possibility for Team Melli, he would be just the right age and with the perfect window to impress the bigger clubs in Europe. With reports that Celtic and Manchester United have been keeping tabs on the winger in recent years, don’t expect Jahanbakhsh to see out his five-year deal with AZ.