Iran captain criticizes English media before World Cup clash
The Iranian national football team captain, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, has accused the English media of attempting to destabilize his team ahead of their World Cup meeting in Qatar.
Group rivals Iran and England face each other on Monday, but sections of the British media have used the build-up to probe members of the Iranian team on political issues surrounding the protests in their homeland.
Responding to a question at a press conference this week, attacking midfielder Jahanbakhsh shut down efforts to direct the discussion away from football.
“I assume you’re from the English media,” replied Jahanbakhsh when asked about tensions in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who died in custody after being detained by Iran’s ‘morality police’.
“To be honest, I’m not sure if England wasn’t in our group, you would have come with this question, firstly,” added Jahanbakhsh.
“And secondly, we’ve been facing this already for a couple of weeks with all the English media – all the headlines as we get closer to the World Cup, whatever the reason is.”
The footballer insisted that the team’s focus was on the tournament in Qatar, where they have been drawn in Group B alongside England, Wales, and the USA.
“What I learned is to always respect the team, respect the jersey, no matter what,” said Jahanbakhsh, who spent three years at Brighton before moving to Dutch team Feyenoord in the summer of 2021.
Targeting the English media, the 29-year-old added: “it’s easy to bring it this way, to play the mental games, ask questions about what’s going on here or there, or whatever.
“But we have just four days to go to play one of the biggest, greatest games of our lives – every single person involved in Team Melli – and all of us are focusing on that.”
Some members of the Iranian national team – including star forward and former Zenit St. Petersburg player Sardar Azmoun – have signaled their support for the protesters with messages on social media.
But Jahanbakhsh was moot about the prospect of any protests among the players while in Qatar.
“Every single player has different celebrations,” Jahanbakhsh said. “And you ask about the national anthem.
“That is also something that has to be decided in the team, which we have already talked about. But everybody is only thinking and talking about football.”
Earlier this week, Iran manager Carlos Queiroz – who hails from Portugal – engaged in a tense exchange with a reporter from Sky when he was asked how he felt about representing Iran.
“How much you pay me to answer that question? You are a private company, how much you pay me? Talk with your boss and at the end of the World Cup, I can give you the answer if you make me a good offer,” Queiroz replied.
“I think you should start to think about what happened with the immigrants in England also. Go think about that,” added the coach as he left the press conference.