21 Midfielder NEC Nijmegen Iran
2014 has been...
A mixed bag. Alireza Jahanbakhsh ended his first season in the Netherlands in a relegated NEC side, but also played in the World Cup in Brazil for Carlos Queiroz’s Iran. It’s been a year of disparate tangible achievements but undeniable progress for a thrilling prospect.
He didn’t really get much of a chance to showcase his abilities in the World Cup, with one exceptional moment giving the world just a hint of what he’s capable of. His skill and subsequent perfect through ball nearly inspired his team to a surprise lead against Argentina.
Domestically, NEC came close to avoiding relegation from the Eredivisie and Jahanbakhsh was the architect of their near-escape at the beginning of May. He scored two equalisers in a 2-2 draw with Ajax, the second coming just minutes from the end of the game. That goal secured a point and gave NEC a stay of execution. They went on to lose their top flight status in a playoff but the young Iranian had stamped his name all over the Dutch football media.
Jahanbakhsh was born in Jirindih in Northern Iran, a couple of hours from the Caspian coast, and played professionally for Damash Gilan until earning a move to Nijmegen and the Eredivisie in July 2013. He’s played regularly for Queiroz since moving up from Iran’s under-age teams into the senior side a year ago, and it’s easy to see why.
Possessed of underestimated pace off the ball, Jahanbakhsh is more obviously a very naturally gifted passer of the ball, delivering with good weight to his team-mates. He has an excellent first touch, is rather handy in a tight spot and has gorgeous footwork, balance and turning ability that borders on the poetically sarcastic. Some young players are reliable and efficient, football’s cookie-cutter blend of eleven herbs and spices. Jahanbakhsh is gourmet.
He plays on both wings and pushes almost central when the ball’s on the opposite side of the field. He looks to run in behind to receive a pass when he can. It’s not unheard of for him to play essentially as a centre forward, which he did primarily in the absence of Michael Higdon last season.
On the ball Jahanbakhsh is nothing short of sensational. He has the ball on a string, boasting brilliant skill and an ability to beat defenders for fun, with a trick or flick thrown in for good measure. He’s also a surprisingly good tackler for such an attacking player; he’ll clip a heel, too, if needs be.
But what really sets Jahanbakhsh apart from other players is something that we’ve been trying to figure out all year. He seems to view the match in an extra dimension to everyone around him, as if the pitch were visibly a three-dimensional box. He flicks and controls the ball right on the line, in the air, like it’s nothing. Proximity to the boundaries simply becomes another weapon in his arsenal and he’s never for a moment unsure of his bearings. The instinctive vision required to achieve this marks him out as something quite extraordinary.
As exciting as Jahanbakhsh is, as enjoyable as he is to watch, he’s a good way off being the finished article. He has (or rather had, in the Eredivisie) an inconsistent impact on games. In some matches there are obvious miscontrols and occasionally puzzling pass selection. He started quite slowly at NEC, all told, but he ended last season as one of the hottest prospects in Dutch football.
He can also be beaten for strength. When asked to hold the ball up with his back to goal, as he infrequently was in the spring, he isn’t really strong enough to do so. It would be too far to say Jahanbakhsh can be bullied out of games, but he most certainly isn’t unplayable. Dynamite at his best, though? You bet.
Jahanbakhsh is focused on helping NEC win promotion from the Eerste Divisie at the first opportunity. He said earlier this year that Iranian football was more about individual technique than the team game required in the Netherlands, but he’s giving lie to that with his one-man destruction of all comers in the second division this season. To put it politely, he’s tearing the Eerste Divisie a new one and NEC are looking a good bet for first place.
That’s not to say the young Iranian winger is a selfish player. He likes to assist goals and set up opportunities as well as score goals of his own, and has said all the right things about enabling NEC to bounce back.
There’s every chance he won’t be around to enjoy it. Despite Heerenveen baulking at an apparently very modest asking price in the summer, reported interest from Manchester United earlier in 2014 indicates that Jahanbakhsh is being watched by some top level clubs on a regular basis. If none grabs him in January, it will be a matter of mere months before a chance is taken on him and he moves on once more. Fitness permitting, it’s more or less inevitable.
"Promising in Eredivisie, an absolute star at Eerste Divisie. Jahanbakhsh was sought after by bigger clubs in the summer, but the Iranian stayed. For now, tipping the title race in the Dutch second tier in N.E.C.’s favour. So good, it’s just an unfair advantage." - Michiel Jongsma
"Alireza Jahanbakhsh played a hand in nine goals (scoring five and assisting four) in 28 Eredivisie games last season for NEC." - OptaJoe
C A fun player to watch and has all the promise in the world.
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