Brighton boss Chris Hughton broke the club’s transfer record to bring Alireza Jahanbakhsh to the Amex this summer, but what do you need to know about the winger?

The Iran international arrived on the south coast in a reported £17m deal this summer following a stellar campaign in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, which he concluded by netting two hat-tricks in three games to secure the Golden Boot award.

At 25 he’s an experienced figure, particularly on the international scene where he is closing on a half-century of caps for his country. But aside from that, who is Alireza Jahanbakhsh? And what is he capable of achieving in a Brighton shirt?

With him set to make his first appearance at the Amex Stadium against Manchester United live on Sky Sports on Sunday, we take a closer look…

Background

Born on 11 August 1993 in Gilan Province in Iran, Jahanbakhsh’s first steps into the world of football were for the youth teams of Payam Alborz Qazvin, Persian Qazvin and Damash Gilan.

After a short spell with Damash Tehran, the winger netted 10 goals in 44 appearances for Damash Gilan’s senior team between 2011 and 2013 and earned a move to Dutch side NEC in the summer, signing a three-year deal.

In his second season with NEC, in the Dutch second tier, he scored 12 goals and assisted a remarkable 18, which saw him named Eerste Divisie’s player of the year in 2014.

His time at AZ Alkmaar will be visited later on, but it’s worth noting that a move to Brighton came within a whisker of being completed three years ago, though the Iranian opted to stay in the Netherlands to develop his game, despite following up the club’s interest with a trip to England to experience the facilities in person.

It clearly paid off for both the player and the club as they managed to secure his signing at the second time of asking, in spite of reported late interest from Claude Puel’s Leicester in mid-July.

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Style of play

“He can play in a wide position or central midfield attacking role,” Chris Hughton revealed when the 25-year-old signed for the club this summer.

The Iranian is equally comfortable when deployed on either wing and when he replaced Solly March in the Seagulls’ opening game of the 2018/19 Premier League season, showed flashes of the brilliance that contributed to his big-money move to the south coast.

Primarily used on the right for previous employers AZ Alkmaar in a 4-3-3 formation, Jahanbakhsh became the shining light in an AZ side led by John van den Brom that finished third in the Eredivisie standings – behind just Ajax and PSV Eindhoven – despite failing to score in his first six appearances of the season.

His calmness on the ball is exemplary and his crossing ability speaks for itself when one takes a look at the number of assists the 25-year-old contributes.

Statistics

Though his influence in the Eredivisie grew season-by-season after he signed from NEC for AZ instead of Brighton in 2015, the winger’s goal tally was nowhere near as impressive in his early years in Holland as it would become.

He made 23 appearances and scored three goals in 2015/16 and followed that up with 12 goals in 43 games the following year, before embarking on his career-best campaign in 2017/18.

After the aforementioned barren start, consecutive defeats to Excelsior and Feyenoord from the end of September into October last year marked an upturn in fortunes for both player and club.

AZ lost just four games in the remainder of the league season, while Jahanbakhsh netted 21 goals in 27 appearances, including two hat-tricks in the final three fixtures of the season.

This haul earned him the Golden Boot award – making him the first Asian player to become the top goalscorer in a top-level European league – while his superb return of 12 assists was the joint-third best in the division.

With just four goals in 41 caps, his goal-scoring exploits are yet to be replicated on the international stage, perhaps due to Carlos Queiroz’s defensive, counter-attacking approach prior to this summer’s World Cup, yet time is on his side.

Where will he fit in?

As the club’s high-profile record signing, Brighton fans will no doubt be looking to see the Iranian in the starting XI on a regular basis this term. Previous club record signing Jurgen Locadia – also an Eredivisie import, having previously played at PSV – has failed to set the world alight as yet, with just one assist and two goals in eight games since joining in January.

Fan-favourite Anthony Knockaert has occupied the berth on the right flank – albeit playing slightly deeper than Jahanbakhsh – in recent years, but has not, as yet, showcased the same level of talent that contributed to Brighton’s promotion in the 2016/17 season.

There’s a connection between the Frenchman and the fans at the Amex, but stats provided by our friends at Football Whispers suggest sentimentality should be placed to one side in favour of collective success, particularly given the fact Hughton’s men failed to register a shot on target against Watford on the season’s opening weekend.

Jahanbakhsh versus Knockaert 2017/18

Jahanbakhsh Knockaert
Goals 22 3
Assists 12 1
Scoring attempts 4.56 (per 90 mins) 1.7 (per 90 mins)
Goals per 90 mins 0.66 0.11
Interceptions 0.57 (per 90 mins) 0.92 (per 90 mins)
Set-piece key passes 0.05 (per 90 mins) 0.29 (per 90 mins)
Successful take-ons 3.55 (per 90 mins) 2.3 (per 90 mins)
Tackles 2.15 (per 90 mins) 1.44 (per 90 mins)

Alireza’s ambitions

On his dreams of playing in the Bundesliga: “Iranian players like Ali Daei, Vahid Hashemian and Ali Karimi who have played at Bayern Munich, are my role models. The Bundesliga is my dream competition.”

On joining Brighton: “I came here to help the team and be important. We have some good players this season, and after speaking to the manager, I have a really good feeling about the tactics and the way the team plays.”

What do they say about him?

AZ Alkmaar boss John van den Brom: “He’s just a fantastic player, but for me as a coach it might be even better that he’s a great person, wonderful to have in the team.”

Iran team-mate Sadar Azmoun: “Jahanbakhsh and me have been doing well. We are great friends and hope to serve the country for a long period of time.”

Chris Hughton: “Ali is a player that we have been aware of and monitored for a few years, and his versatility will increase our attacking options within the squad. I am now very much looking forward to working with him.”

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