Alireza Jahanbakhsh says he chose AZ Alkmaar over Brighton and Hove Albion the last time he was on the transfer market, but things changed a lot before the Gulls broke its transfer record to bring him to south England.
Jahanbakhsh, 24, left NEC Breda in 2015 after scoring 12 goals in the Dutch second tier. The Iranian star has steadily improved and posted 21 goals and 12 assists last season, leading the Eredivisie in goals and boasting an astounding 14 Man of the Match awards.
“Three years ago I didn’t know much about the club, but now I know a lot more. All of these reasons made me move to this amazing club. I was following the club’s games and results last season. The end of last season was a good time for me to move outside of the country. I decided to move and I was thinking a lot, asking people that I trust, and most of them were really positive about joining Brighton.”
Sure there’s a risk to any player joining a superior league, but Jahanbakhsh may carry less than most and Brighton has shown a keen eye for identifying players from other leagues whether big ones like Pascal Gross or smaller like Jose Izquierdo.
Hector Moreno knows his move to AS Roma is a big deal for him, his club, and his country.
That may seem like a bit too much aggrandization, but Moreno joins the biggest club of his accomplished European career. That club nearly ended the scudetto reign of Juventus last season, coming as close as anyone in recent history.
And he’s the first Mexican to play for Roma, a club a bit higher in the pecking order than the homes for previous El Tri members in Serie A (Carlos Salcedo went on loan to Fiorentina last season, while Miguel Layun spent time at Atalanta and Rafa Marquez played three seasons at Verona).
“I know what people expect from me, and the people in Italy will look back at Mexico as a place to find good players if I do well,” Moreno told ProSoccerTalk ahead of the club’s second Stateside match of the International Champions Cup, Tuesday versus Tottenham Hotspur at Red Bull Arena.
“Football in Mexico is lived with so much passion. It’s so important.”
What they’ve seen from the 29-year-old center back gives them every reason to be proud. Moreno has won the Eredivisie with two clubs (AZ Alkmaar and PSV Eindhoven) and was Espanyol’s Player of the Year during his first of three campaigns in La Liga.
Moreno’s offensive acumen shone through his second stint in Holland, and the center back who also plays some left back scored seven goals last season.
When Roma came calling, he had little hesitation.
“It’s something I have wanted my entire career, for an opportunity like this,” Moreno said. “It’s an amazing challenge to keep going forward in my career.”
Moreno captained El Tri in a 1-1 draw against the United States in World Cup qualifying on June 12, and the Roma signing was announced on June 13. Five days later, he was pushing Mexico over the line with a stoppage time goal against Portugal at the Confederations Cup.
Again, this was about a statement for both him and his country, especially with Mexico in pole position to finish first in CONCACAF World Cup qualification and the desire to make it past the Round of 16 for the first time in seven tournaments.
“It was a great moment and the feeling was amazing because we fought so hard and we didn’t expect to lose,” Moreno said. “It looks easy to say but with Ronaldo, Ledesma, Pepe, at the end we got a result that we deserved.
“And this will probably help the team to know where we stand because in CONCACAF qualification for World Cup we are almost there and in all due respect it’s a different quality of play than CONCACAF. You can see where you stand and what you have to improve to be on the level. It is the dream forever that we can go to the fifth game, and we can do that in Russia. We’re going to work hard and I hope we can make it.”
It may surprise some to hear that Moreno also hopes El Tri’s heated rivals in the U.S. qualify for Russia as well.
“I hope so,” Moreno quickly replies. “It would make a good tournament. They always make it through and they have such a good team. It’s always (the hope) that Mexico and U.S. can meet in the World Cup, because they have such good talent as well.”
Roma faces Spurs in New Jersey on Tuesday before a July 30 battle with Juventus at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
Advocaat, 69, has twice helmed the national team and thrice served as assistant manager, so his return is not a big surprise despite his retirement talk.
The manager inherits the side midway through World Cup qualifying, and the Dutch are six points out of an automatic qualifying spot — three points behind second place Sweden — in the race to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The Netherlands has lost to Bulgaria and is yet to keep a clean sheet through five matches.
A former Chicago Sting player, Advocaat also led Belgium, Russia, Serbia, UAE, and South Korea, and has plenty of experience in club soccer as well. He has managed PSV Eindhoven, AZ Alkmaar, Rangers, and Borussia Monchengladbach in his long career.
The Icelandic-American forward, 24, played for the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer, scoring once in six appearances for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side, which takes his overall tally to four goals in 17 U.S. appearances. The forward was born in Mobile, Alabama but switched his international allegiance from Iceland back in 2013. Although his lack of goals didn’t impress many this summer, Klinsmann did make a point of saying that Johannsson had progressed over the summer months with the U.S. national team.
After returning to his club AZ and featuring in their Europa League clash against Istanbul Basaksehi last week, Johannsson will not travel with the Eredivisie side for the second leg of their third qualifying round clash and has instead gone to Germany for talks with Bremen.
“AZ has reached an agreement in outline with Werder Bremen over the transfer of Aron Johannsson. The club has given the 24- year-old striker permission to come to a personal agreement with the Germans. Johannsson will not be traveling Wednesday with AZ to Turkey .
“If AZ and Werder’s agreement works out completely, and Johannsson also reaches a personal agreement and passes the medical examination, the American International will sign a multi-year contract with Werder Bremen.”
Johannsson has scored 39 goals in 71 appearances for AZ since joining the Dutch side in January 2013 and even though it would mean giving up Europa League action, this move to Bremen would undoubtedly be a step up as the German outfit finished 10th in the Bundesliga last season.
If the move does go through, as expected, then Johannsson will join U.S. teammates John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, Alfredo Morales, Julian Green, Joe Gyau and Timmy Chandler in the German top-flight this season.
Although the switch from the Dutch Eredivisie to Germany’s top flight would be theoretically considered a step up, moving from AZ to Bremen would see Johannsson lose the ability to play in the Europa League, at least for next season. Bremen finished 10th in the Bundesliga last year, below a European place.
However, a move to Germany would be smart for Johannsson in the sense that the Bundesliga style of play translates well to the Eredivisie, and he would likely thrive. The 24-year-old had an injury-plagued campaign last year, managing nine goals in 21 league appearances for AZ, but the season before he was prolific, leading the club with 17 league goals and 26 across all competitions.
Johannsson has already begun his new season with AZ, coming on as a halftime substitute in a 2-0 win over Turkish club Medipol Basaksehir on July 30 in a Europa League qualifier.