Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

“In the beginning I wasn’t ready” – Saman Ghoddos’ tale of persistence

Posted on 24 January 2021 by Madhavan Ramanujam

Iranian international Saman Ghoddos signed for Brentford from Ligue 1 (now 2) side Amiens SC in September 2020, on an initial one-year loan deal. That move was turned into a permanent transfer on January 14th, with Ghoddos penning a three-year deal with the option of an extra year.

Although he struggled to settle in at first at Brentford, Saman Ghoddos believes he is ready to help them reach the Premier League. [Credit Tasnim News Agency]
Speaking ahead of today’s game, Ghoddos explained that he is relieved and comforted after resolving his future at the club and  is now focused on helping his side achieve promotion to the Premier League. Ghoddos’ immediate attention, however, is very much on Leicester City, Brentford’s opponents in today’s FA Cup fourth round tie.

The Bees fell at this exact hurdle to this exact opposition last year and while Ghoddos described Brendan Rodgers’ side as one without any weaknesses, he is quietly confident of his team’s chances against the Foxes. After all, they are on a 16-game unbeaten run in the Championship and caused Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham multiple problems in a 2-0 EFL Cup semi-final defeat.

Although Ghoddos now appears set to be a key part in Brentford’s promotion and FA Cup campaign, his journey to Brentford and the four months between signing on loan and penning a permanent deal have had their fair share of challenges, with a four month ban from football representing the lowest ebb of his career. So, who is Saman Ghoddos?

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Where it all began

Ghoddos was born in Malmo, Sweden, to Iranian parents. After deciding to pursue a career in professional football, he made his way up the Swedish lower leagues, but it was at Ostersunds FK that he was thrust into the global spotlight.

Striking up a good relationship with coach Graham Potter (now at Brighton), he won Swedish football’s premier domestic trophy, the Svenska Cup, in just his second season while also collecting two club’s Player of the Year awards during his two-and-a-half seasons at the club.

In a two-legged Europa League last-32 clash against Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal, Ghoddos caught the attention of the Frenchman, who praised him as marvellous and technically and tactically impressive. Ghoddos set up both of the Swedish side’s goals against the Gunners at the Emirates stadium as Potter’s side claimed an impressive 2-1 away victory, though they went out 4-2 on aggregate.

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Choosing to represent Iran after making two friendly appearances for Sweden, Ghoddos came on from the bench in all three group games at the 2018 World Cup, as Iran finished third in their group behind Spain and Portugal. After sharing the pitch with totemic footballers like Cristiano Ronaldo and David Silva, he described the tournament as undoubtedly the biggest event in his career.

On the back of that successful showing, Ghoddos moved to Amiens SC in the French Ligue 1, becoming the first Iranian to play in the division. He made a promising start to life in France, scoring four goals and assisting another five from a variety of positions in his first campaign.

However, things took a downward turn in the second season, as FIFA banned him from playing football for four months, due to his alleged part in a failed transfer from Ostersunds to Spanish side Huesca in the summer of 2018. He has since said that the ban was the worst part of his personal and professional life and that he feels the effects caused by the subsequent lack of match fitness to this day.

A new chapter

On 21st September 2020, Ghoddos decided to swap Amiens for London, as he signed a one-year loan deal with Brentford. Speaking on the eve of the signing, Brentford head coach Thomas Frank said: “He will bring good attacking qualities in the final third. He is good in one-on-one situations, is a good crosser of the ball and makes very intelligent passes. Off the ball he will really help us in our pressing game.”

Frank’s faith in Ghoddos reaped immediate dividends, as he set up the only goal in an EFL Cup win over Fulham, with one of his first touches.

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But behind the scenes, there were a few issues. Ghoddos found himself on the bench more often than he would have liked during his first few weeks at the club and reflects with honesty on why that was the case.

“In the beginning I wasn’t fit, I wasn’t really ready. I wasn’t adapting good enough and that is why I wasn’t playing. When I was playing, I didn’t do good enough to keep my position in the starting eleven,” he said.

Additionally, he was facing problems regarding his diet and the increased number of matches that Brentford were playing. Tactically, by his own admission the Championship was at a higher level than Ligue 1, so it took him extra time to settle. And on top of all these concerns, having made the move during a global health crisis, Ghoddos could not freely socialise with his new team-mates.

“It has been difficult to settle, a bit more difficult than usual of course. When you are new to a team, you like to go out with them, to eat and get to know them and you can’t do that now,” Ghoddos said.

Fortunately, it was his teammates who provided much-needed support, especially childhood friend Pontus Jansson, Brentford’s captain. Ghoddos explained: “It [Brentford] is a special club. In training, they’re so friendly that it is easier to get to know them and try to be a family. We have some really nice guys here, they even tried to help me lease a car. Some players even tried to help me to find an apartment.”

With his personal life in a much more comfortable situation, Ghoddos’ performances on the pitch also took an upwards trajectory, especially after a frank discussion with his coach.

However, just as he scored his first goal for the club, the winner in a 2-1 FA Cup victory over Middlesbrough after providing the assist for the first, Brentford were hit with a significant COVID-19 outbreak. Head coach Thomas Frank tested positive and, on the advice of the FA, the training ground was shut down for a few days. Two Championship games were postponed and the Bees did not fulfil any competitive fixture for 10 days.

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Ghoddos said: “It affected [the squad] a lot, of course. The rhythm we had that was so good with the training, all that disappeared. Training alone of course is not the same thing and I think it showed maybe in the game [against Luton] in the second half.”

But Brentford managed to see off Luton Town in a 1-0 win, with Ghoddos scoring the only goal.

Point of attack

What has also helped the Iranian exert a growing influence on the team has been a change in position. Although he has played in all positions across the frontline previously and started his career at the Brentford Community Stadium on the left wing, Frank recently moved him to the right of a midfield three to great effect.

“My favourite position and the position that I think I play the best is the number ten or false nine. But we don’t play in that formation. Now, I have a new position that I haven’t played before, a number eight role as a midfielder. I really love it and am trying to learn this new position,” he explained.

Brentford have only lost one out of the 20 games that Ghoddos has appeared in. Having beaten four Premier League sides this campaign already, a game against a Vardy-less Leicester (due to hernia surgery) does look a tantalising prospect. As for Ghoddos himself, he very much believes that an upset is possible.

At 27, Ghoddos is much more at peace with his playing style as well. He explained: “Before it was ‘I want to show myself because I want to play in these leagues.’ Now at this age it is more of ‘I want to make sure my team wins.'”

Brentford vs Leicester City in the FA Cup fourth round kicks off at 14:30 pm at the Brentford Community Stadium. It will be shown live on BT Sport 1.