AZ Alkmaar’s reputation for buying players for low prices and selling them at a premium has been enhanced after they sold 54% of their goals from last season in Wout Weghorst and Alireza Jahanbakhsh. The latter will have to shoulder high expectations after joining Brighton and Hove Albion for a record breaking fee after finishing his final season in the Eredivisie as the top scorer.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh departs AZ Alkmaar in the same fashion that he joined the club, with double figures in goals and assists. The Iranian developed at a rate only few could have predicted in the ensuing years as he took the first half of his first season at AZ Alkmaar to settle. Brighton and Hove Albion have shown a willingness to shop in the Eredivisie with Davy Propper and Jurgen Locadia from PSV Eindhoven but their three-year devotion to signing the Iranian attacker could prove pivotal to their development in the top flight.

Leaving his native Iran to join NEC Nijmegen at the age of 18, proved a risk that has paid off for all parties involved as the Eerste Divisie outfit accrued a sell-on fee in a record breaking deal for both AZ and Brighton Hove and Albion. AZ Alkmaar have secured their two biggest sales for two Eerste Divsie products signed in the same summer as Vincent Janssen and Jahanbakhsh became integral to the fortunes of the club at a rapid rate. Their transfer strategy of buying low and selling high saw them develop both into Eredivisie top scorers.

Jahanbakhsh was a popular figure in the AZ dressing room as in a Europa League match against Dundalk, after he was knocked unconscious in a collision with the opposition goalkeeper, most of his teammates fell to their knees with concern etched on their faces while players on the AZ bench were also drawn to tears as they felt for his well-being. In the same Europa League campaign, AZ made the selfless decision to drop Jahanbakhsh from a match away to Maccabi Haifa in order to protect his eligibility for the Iranian National Team. Some facets of Iranian politics do not recognise Israel as having an Israeli stamp on his passport could have jeopardised his international future.

In the second-half of his first season, he showed some glimmers of what he could be with AZ as against Feyenoord, for AZ’s second goal in a 4-2 victory, he managed to curl a cross to the back post while he was slipping for Janssen to tap-in. Curled crosses to the back post have become an essential part of his repertoire as a key chance and assist generator for the winger. After the departure of Janssen, AZ head coach, John Van Den Brom began to rely on the 24-year-old Iranian while encouraging him to move into the centre more thus giving him more freedom of expression in his role. In the games where Van Den Brom dropped Alireza for tactical reasons, like in another match against Feyenoord, AZ lacked width and became very one dimensional.

Jahanbakhsh nurtured a penchant for scoring shots from range as his forays into the centre became a pivotal part of AZ’ attacking play. At times, Jahanbakhsh would even drop into the space between a deeper lying centre-back and fullback who had pushed high, in order to speed up build up play. The Iranian developed a wide array of attacking qualities as he honed an ability to instigate one touch passing movements in congested high-pressure areas of the pitch while he can play quality through balls on the counter. Jahanbakhsh played almost exclusively as a right winger but developed as a playmaker and a second striker, especially when AZ switched to a 5-3-2 formation against the bigger Eredivisie sides.

The Iranian developed a relationship with right back, Jonas Svensson as one would stretch the opposition team by playing closer to the touchline while the other would occupy the half-spaces. The two would frequently engage in quick passing exchanges to create opportunities and goals as away to Groningen, Jahanbakhsh and Svensson traded passes before the Iranian crossed for the Norwegian in the half-space to score. In the home match to the same opponents, Jahanbakhsh spread the ball to the fullback who cut-back to Guus Til to have his shot deflected out to the Brighton winger who volleyed past Sergio Padt from range. Defences were constantly befuddled by the speed of the duos interchanges and movement on the right flank as they became an integral conduit for AZ’s attack.

The uniqueness of Jahanbakhsh is not just that he is an attacker that thrives in both quick breaks and more patient and elongated build-up play but there is also a variety in which he creates chances and assists. In a match at home to Heerenveen this season, he slid through an onrushing Svensson to cross from the by-line for Til to tap in while he is a specialist at both crosses on the ground and aerial crosses as AZ scored more goals from low crosses into the penalty area than any other team in the Eredivisie. In the same match, he rolled a cross for Til to tap in at the far post while in a match against champions, PSV Eindhoven he waited till the perfect moment on the break to chip a ball to the far post for an unmarked Weghorst to head in. For the first goal in the same match, he played a through ball for Til on the break to have his shot blocked before Weghorst converted the rebound.

His ability as a creative and goal scoring force made him more important to AZ’s style of play than other wingers are to other teams. He could be seen receiving the ball from the centre-backs, stretching play by the touchline, passing and moving in the half-spaces while he would also receive the ball in between the lines and central channels as well as on the other flank. AZ implemented an overtly attacking style which relied on positional play in approach play as the newly signed Brighton attacker was given licence to roam and was highly involved in all phases of play. AZ manager, John Van den Brom wanted him consistently engaged in play as in a match away to Roda JC, Jahanbakhsh juggled the ball next to the touchline before the coach criticized the player for ‘misguided arrogance.’

“Alireza is a special player, he’s good in the depth when they send him deep, he’s good in 1v1s. He has a good cross, he’s scoring goals and he has a big package to go forward in this game. He did have a rough patch in the beginning when he got to AZ, especially with an injury but he got over that and worked hard,” said former AZ Technical Director, Earnie Stewart to the Gol Bezan podcast in December 2017.

Brighton have an intriguing set of wingers including Anthony Knockaert, Jose Izquierdo and Solly March while Ezeqiuel Schelotto and Jurgen Locadia can also play on the flanks. In his last two years at AZ, Jahanbakhsh accrued an astronomical 34 goals and 21 assists in all competitions which led to AZ selling him for a record fee while Brighton and Hove Albion bought him for a record fee. His progression into the Eredivisie leading scorer was gradual as he may have a slow start in the much pacier and more intensely physical English Premier League but if Brighton fans show a little restraint, he will be well worth the wait.

Chaka Simbeye (69 Posts)