One to watch: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Iran)

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Overview of Player:

This 24-year old AZ man is the star player, however you look at it. Boasting an insane 8.20 average rating on Whoscored, being Iran’s most valuable player by far according to Transfermarkt, and being linked to numerous Premier League clubs, Iran will rely on him heavily. At his tender age, Jahanbakhsh already has 38 caps; that’s three more caps than 28-year old Kyle Walker, who feels like he’s been around forever.

With most nations, we would avoid picking the star player, by virtue of it being too obvious and click-bait. However, despite Jahanbakhsh’s exploits, including finishing as the Eredivisie top-scorer last season, he isn’t especially well-known. Unless his name alone prevents him from reaching that feat, the World Cup is a great opportunity for him to bank a move to a bigger club and have his talents recognised globally.

Overview of Nation:

Managed by Carlos Quieroz since 2011, Iran are extraordinarily cagey. In qualifying, they didn’t concede a single goal away, beating Uzbekistan and Qatar 1-0, and drawing 0-0 to all of the other teams! At home, they weren’t much more enterprising, drawing 2-2 with Syria and beating the others, either 1-0 or 2-0. However, they face an unenviable road ahead;  Iran’s group contains Spain, Portugal and Morocco.

Performance of player in qualification:

In Iran’s side, Jahanbakhsh has far less freedom than he does at club level. As a creative wide player who nearly always opts to use his right foot, Jahanbakhsh is almost always deployed as a right winger for club and country. He isn’t completely trusted always by Quieroz, being substituted off in most matches, and rarely making the same impact on the international stage as he does at club level. Even so, he was an ever-present in their line-up, and managed to score in a crucial away victory against Qatar in the opening fixture.

Why he’s one to watch:

Going into specifics about his play, both his monstrous individual shot and creation numbers, 4.5 shots per 90 minutes and 2.5 key passes, demonstrate the dual threat he brings to the table. In addition, Statsbomb provide further insight on how he “also passes the eye test in how he creates those chances”. They describe him as: “a willing crosser… good at creating cut backs… [and] great at weighting his passes into the penalty area perfectly so that his teammates can make the additional pass that leads to a shot, similar to how Kevin De Bruyne ran the show with Manchester City this season.” Having those kinds of plaudits on his passing, to accompany his goal-scoring record, makes Jahanbakhsh a truly frightening prospect.

Jahanbakhsh’s burst onto the scene is only surprising for those who didn’t follow his progress. He made his international debut aged 20, which might not sound extraordinarily young, but there are only seven players going to the 2018 World Cup at a younger age. He made his league debut with Darmash aged 17, becoming one of their youngest-ever players; after scoring 10 goals in 42 league appearances with them, he then joined NEC aged 19. He was always destined to be a superstar, at least in Iranian football.

Before being signed by AZ, he was named the Eerste Divisie’s best player for the 2014-15 season, being aged between 20 and 21, with 12 goals and 18 assists in the league. Last season, in addition to being Eredivisie top-scorer, he finished joint-third in terms of assists. He became the first Asian player ever to become the top goalscorer in a top level European league. He seems to break new records every season. Hesitating on signing a player with such obvious potential until he proves himself at the World Cup, after which he costs around three times as much, seems like a standard Premier League transfer deal.

In truth, this selection has little to do with how well he fits Iran’s team, and everything to do with how exciting a player Jahanbakhsh is at face value. He has the biggest potential to blow away any casual viewer’s expectations out of anyone in Iran’s squad. Everyone deserves a chance to build up a player with hyperbole at some point!

Video of player/compilation:

FM Screenshot:

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Jahanbakhsh’s Football Manager attributes are in desperate need of a boost, after his sensational season at club level. As with the Kramarić article, the only reason these are being discussed is to lambast the game for being run by capitalists and not giving the smaller guys a fair rating.

Even with these attributes, Jahanbakhsh is correctly a key player for AZ and courted by bigger clubs. He is also one of Iran’s star men, and a flair player for club and country. However, pining him down as a winger, and giving him a better attribute for crossing than finishing, passing, composure or balance, seems rather reductive. That seems to fit the role Quieroz puts him in for Iran, rather than the type of freer role he thrives in.


This isn’t the only ‘One to Watch’, we are releasing a one to watch article for every nation in the World Cup. An hour before each team kick off their first World Cup Group Stage game, we will release that nations one to watch. These can be viewed here – One to Watch for all Nations in World Cup 2018

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