It is usually rare for a football player to get a transfer from an unknown Asian club to a Dutch top division outfit. It is also rare to have a quick improvement to win a league with a Dutch team, and the league’s Player of the season award within two years of the transfer. The soon-to-be 23-year-old Iranian striker, Alireza Jahanbakhsh did just that following his move from Iran’s Damash Gilan to Eredivisie’s NEC in 2013.
The youthful striker scored 6 goals and provided 4 assists in his debut season, and was awarded as Eredivisie’s 2nd best young talent of the season. Despite NEC’s relegation to Division 2 in the following season, Alireza was instrumental in helping the team earn promotion to the top division. Netting 12 goals and providing 18 assists, he was crowned as Best player of NEC and Best player of the Dutch 2nd Division in 2014-2015. Soon came offers from other clubs, and he joined AZ Alkmaar in 2015 on a 5-year contract.
The Iranian youngster continued his improvement last season, and in Footballchannel.asia’s annual tracking of Asian players’ performances in Europe, Alireza Jahanbakhsh had the second highest rating in 2015-2016 (ratings conducted by whoscored.com).
With Dutch league’s kick-off on Aug 5th, and AZ Alkmaar’s appearance in Europa League, at Football Tribe Asia, Niloufar Momeni conducted an interview with the rising star of the Dutch league and asked him what he has in store for his team and fans in 2016-2017.
1. Hi, Alireza. How are you doing? You guys seem to have a busy pre-season! Your team played nine games ahead of the new season, as well as Europa league games too. First of all, congrats on your team’s victory against Giannina at Europa league!
Thank you! Yes, indeed we had a busy pre-season. The good news is all the new players and other squad players had chances to play from the beginning of the pre-season and that’s positive for our team preparation. We had great teamwork and physically we were good, so thankfully in our game against the Greek side at Europa league, we won. We also played our first game of the season last week, and hopefully, we continue our games in great form.
2. In AZ Alkmaar’s pre-season friendly games, you scored a goal and had one assist in the game against Sportvereniging (SSVW). How is your preparation going for the new season?
I had a good preparation. Last season, when I joined AZ, I had an injury and missed most of the first few games. Thankfully, this time, I could train and play in preseason from beginning. Right now, I’m in good condition. Hopefully, this season that is going to be a long one (due to league cup, and Europa League), I am useful for the team.
3. At Footballchannelasia, during the 2015-2016 season, we rated you along with 40 other Asian players from England, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, and you were rated the second highest Asian player after Hiroshi Kiyotake. How would you rate your last season with AZ Alkmaar?
I missed the first half of the season. During the Christmas, we had a preparation. And in the second half of the season, when I returned, I had much better performances. Also, as a team, we improved a lot. I believe we were unbeaten in eight consecutive games. We were 12th at the end of the first half of the season and reached 4th in the second half of the season. Individually, I was very happy about my performances in the second half of the season. Hopefully, I’ll be in good form from the beginning of the season this time.
4. What are your targets for 2016-2017 at AZ Alkmaar?
We have very good players. What is more important for me though is to be the best I can for the team. If I can do my best for the team, that will lead to improvement in my performances and records as an individual as well. I hope we get to the point of challenging for Eredivisie championship this year, as we have great team conditions. I think we can be better than last year.
5. In your previous interview, you mentioned your desire to join a team that plays in the European Champions League, in future. In the Dutch league, considering it has less media coverage than English Premier League or La Liga, what does it take for you to get the attention of big clubs abroad?
As you said, media coverage is a lot less focused on the Dutch league compare to English Premier League or La Liga. But in terms of football, Dutch league is among top 3 leagues in the World. Also, football experts consider the Eredivisie a very prestige league with great talents. So, when they are looking for a quality player, they will send scouts to the Dutch league, too. It is the reason that I decided to join the Eredivisie.
If I stay here for the next two years, I won’t go to another Dutch team. AZ is a great club. We also have a history of great players’ transfers to other big clubs who play in the Champions League.
6. You had an impressive improvement since coming to Europe: Best player of NEC in the second division, then a great season for AZ , second highest rated Asian player according to our findings. What do you say is the key to your motivation to do better each season?
For me, it is very important to constantly and gradually improve towards my goals. When I look back, I’m so happy that I went to NEC. At NEC, I gained a lot of experience and it helped me to be able to join AZ, a team that I always wished to join. Thankfully, I have what I wish for at the end. But the key is that I try to improve to reach my goal.
7.What are the three things you learned in Netherlands, and in particular from your coach, Van Den Brom?
I gained a lot from all the coaches I have worked with. I tried to learn from each and every coach and player, both older and younger than me.
I think the important thing I learned in Netherlands was the discipline and time management that they enforce on players. In this aspect, it is very different than Iranian football. Discipline is very important to them.
Also, another point is the great facilities they have here. Unfortunately, great facilities is rare in Iran.
Also, I learned a lot from their teamwork. In Iran, we have very technical players, but not as focused as a team. In Dutch league, the focus is to work better as a team, no matter how good players are as individuals. I could also apply this learning to my personal and professional life.
8. You came to the Netherlands directly from Iranian Damash Gilan club. Unfortunately, the number of Iranian players playing in Europe has dwindled compared to the past. But it seems that more and more South Korean and Japanese players are coming here. What do you think are the reason behind this?
I think the football world is changing rapidly. Look at the money being spent in football these days. Discipline is the key here. Unfortunately, as you said the number of Iranian players in Europe has decreased, although I think we have very good players. South Korean and Japanese players adapt themselves better than us in European leagues, I think because discipline and adaptability are applied in their own football leagues. But in Iran, discipline has not been taken seriously at club level. Or maybe it’s because of the physical condition of players. This trend can be negative for Iran. It is unfortunate that we see such a problem.
9. What do you do in your leisure time?
I usually spend my leisure time with my friends. I play Playstation! My friends are mostly Iranians. I also go shopping, which I like a lot. I also go visit the cities nearby where I live. Having fun is what I do in my leisure time.
10. Do you watch football in your leisure time? If you do, which teams or leagues do you watch mostly?
I do definitely watch football games as well. If it’s a high-quality match, I definitely watch, although sometimes it’s better for football players not to watch football, and keep their mind free of football for a bit.
11.In your previous interviews, you had named Cristiano Ronaldo as your idol. What do you like about him as your idol?
In general, I try to learn from any high-quality player. The best example for me could be Cristiano Ronaldo. His determination and hard work are exemplary. Like most players, he was raised in a poor family, and with his hard work, he got to the level he is now. I learned from him that you can achieve great things if you dream.
12. Switching to National team for a bit, after your transfer to Dutch league, your games at National team were also significantly improved: Better teamwork, more assists, and higher stamina. Do you see the same improvement in yourself at Team Melli? Do you relate it to your playing time in Netherlands or to Carlos Queiroz’s instructions?
Since coming to Europe, I have tried to transfer my learnings to national team games. I also learned from Carlos Queiroz, just like other national team players who also have learned a lot from him. Some learnings have been from Dutch league, but mostly from Carlos Queiroz at Team Melli.
13. In Iran’s World Cup qualifying group (Uzbekistan, South Korea, China, Syria, and Qatar), what are our chances of qualifying among top 2 teams?
Considering our group, I think we can be confident. The national team coach and players’ focus is to improve and advance directly from our group. We have to start strongly though from the first game, and advance. It is not easy but we can do it, I think.