Brighton & Hove Albion winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh spoke to the matchday magazine about his transition to English football, and life back home in Iran.
When you grew up watching the Premier League, did you think one day that you’d be playing at this stage?
Yes, I always had that dream and that feeling that it would happen. Of course there has been a journey for me to get to this point but now I’m here and playing against all these big teams and playing for this amazing club, I’m determined to make the most of the opportunity.
For most foreign players it takes time to adapt to the Premier League. Has it been the same for you?
I knew there would be a period of adaptation before I arrived and that’s been the case. I came with the mindset that it would be tough, with no easy games to play and that every team I’d be facing would have quality players in it. Now I’m here, I’m witnessing that even more. You have to adapt to many things: the tactics of the manager, the pace of the game, the crazy atmosphere inside the stadiums, life away from the pitch, everything. For every new player that comes to the Premier League, it takes time to settle down, but I’m not worried; I know my quality, I know where I’ve come from and I won’t be letting this chance go. I’ve worked hard for this and will continue to work hard to produce good performances for the club.
You arrived here from AZ Alkmaar in Holland, so is there much difference here compared to the Eredivisie?
The pace is different, it’s much faster here. You don’t have any time to stop in games; it’s always on the go and like I said, the atmosphere in the stadiums is crazy here – home and away, it’s incredible. Every game has that edge which you don’t necessarily get in Holland. With so much at stake you have to be at 100 per cent in every single game. Even in training you can’t switch off. You have to be consistently good every single day, whereas in Holland, it’s not as intense.
What has been your most enjoyable game so far?
West Ham at home, as it was the first game I had started and we also took the three points. In terms of a team performance, I would have to say the Manchester United game here at the Amex. I didn’t play in the match but it was a great performance from the lads and everyone did a great job. To take three points against United is always going to be a perfect day, especially when it’s at home.
Does beating the big sides in the league give the players confidence that you can do it on a regular basis?
Yes, for sure. First of all it’s always a nice occasion to play against the big teams with the big-name players, but when you perform against them and get the points, it gives you even more confidence. We have the qualities to prove to people that we are a really good team, and we have proved that by beating Manchester United in the last two seasons. In fact, we have done well in the big games this season: Liverpool away, Manchester City away, with the game at Anfield being one where we did a really good job. Manchester City are a team that’s very tough to play against, where they had a lot of possession and made it difficult for us, but at Liverpool we created chances to get something from the game.
Away from football, how have you found the move to England?
It gets better and better the more time goes on. When I was in Holland, I had more family over there, my agent and lots of friends, but that was built up over time and I’m sure it will be the same here. After five or six years there I’ve come to a new country with a new culture, and it takes a little while to find a home, move away from the hotel, and get things the way I want them. But week by week I’m getting there. As far as the club’s concerned, I’m very happy. The people who work here are lovely, they have helped me a lot to settle in.
You’ve come here with a big price tag so is that something that bothers you?
It doesn’t bother me at all. The price was agreed between the clubs, it has nothing to do with me, so it doesn’t affect me. As long as I can keep progressing, that’s all that matters for me – nothing else is important. I know my quality, I know where I’ve come from, and I know what I’m capable of. In Holland, people would talk about me but I just focused on myself and how I could improve. It’s the same here; I don’t read the headlines or take notice of social media. Of course I respect people’s opinions but people do expect more from you sometimes, so for me it’s just about concentrating on what I can do. I know what I can do.
You’re a superstar in Iran so do you get mobbed, David Beckham style, at the airport?
The people back home love their football and following the players who play for the national team abroad. They always show their love and their encouragement, which is very nice and appreciated, but it’s nothing like David Beckham! When I go back to my home town in the north of Iran, people will come up and talk to me and take pictures, and it’s the same at the airport, but it’s nothing that’s out of control. I’ve never craved the attention anyway; I prefer to keep a low profile, to chill when I’m back home and will just hang out with my family and friends where there’s not a lot of people. Of course when I’m with the national team, then there’s more interest, with the fans wanting pictures and autographs but I’m always happy to do that because I was a fan once.
We have a perception of Iran in the West, but it’s a beautiful country isn’t it?
People believe what they’re told in the media and by politicians but Iran is a very beautiful country. My parents and my best friends are still living there and they are just loving life. Where I come from, we have beautiful countryside, the beach is lovely and we have modern and very vibrant places to visit. Last year my previous club came to make a documentary about my life back in Iran, the culture, the lifestyle, the food and they were pleasantly surprised at what they discovered. Of course we’re an Islamic country with certain rules, and while the economy is a little up and down at the moment because of the politics with the West, everyone is living together with no problems and in my opinion, it is a safe country – the safest country in that region of the world. How Iran is perceived depends on through which eyes you are viewing it.