“English, Dutch, Farsi, I like to speak French as well. German I understand, I studied Italian too. Also Portuguese.”
*FIFA.com *is struggling to keep up with Reza Ghoochannejhad, as he reels off - when asked - the languages he can speak. It is quickly becoming apparent that the Iran and Charlton Athletic forward is not your average footballer, with a multitude of off-pitch talents to match his striking prowess on it. As well as his (at least) seven languages, he also plays the violin.
“That is something I definitely want to continue in the future,” the 28-year-old enthused. “It’s not really classical music, it’s more the eastern violin music that I have a passion for. I had lessons for a bit longer than a year. I try once in a while to play it, I don’t have a lot of time.”
Juggling violin practice and learning new languages with life as a professional footballer is certainly far from straightforward, but Ghoochannejhad has managed to do so to admirable effect, most notably at international level. He has a penchant for scoring important goals for Team Melli, bagging the goal that took his country to the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, scoring his country’s only effort at Brazil 2014, as well as a couple of memorable strikes at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
“I was very lucky to be in that position,” Ghoochannejhad said. “It’s my job so I enjoy scoring those goals, especially for your country. I always look forward to playing for Iran. It’s different when you’re playing for your club to your country. It’s something difficult to explain but it’s right from the national anthems before the game it’s different.”
Even after [going home after the group stages], people in Iran were proud. That’s the most important thing. At the end of the day you do it for the people. As long as they’re happy, you’re happy too.
That feeling was most apparent for the striker in Brazil, where Carlos Queiroz’s side finished bottom of an admittedly difficult group comprising African champions Nigeria, new boys Bosnia and Herzegovina and eventual Finalists Argentina.
“As a kid you always dream of playing in a World Cup,” Ghoochannejhad said. “Your main goal is to play at one because it’s the highest stage in football. We went home with a proud feeling and everybody in Iran was satisfied. Even after [going home after the group stages], people in Iran were proud. That’s the most important thing. At the end of the day you do it for the people. As long as they’re happy, you’re happy too. It was a great experience, I’ll cherish it forever.”
A life away from the game
A World Cup appearance seemed so far away for a 21-year-old Reza Ghoochannejhad, who gave up football to concentrate on his studies in the Netherlands. Having grown up in the country, after his family moved there when he was a child, Ghoochannejhad had spent years in the youth academies of Cambuur and Heerenveen, also playing for the Netherlands at youth level, but was ready to give up his budding football career to study law. He was coaxed back to the game, remarkably, by Dutch legend Marc Overmars, who at the time was involved at board level with Dutch second tier outfit Go Ahead Eagles.
“I decided to quit football at that moment because I thought that something else was calling me,” Ghoochannejhad said. “I started studying and after a while, Marc Overmars convinced me to come back, to continue playing football to try and mix them both – studying and playing. I owe him a lot. He was willing to give me enough time, to organise my own training plan alongside law school. I’m very grateful for that because after that my career went very well.”
After success with Go Ahead Eagles and Cambuur, the forward ended up plying his trade in Belgium, where his relationship with Carlos Queiroz, his “second dad”, began. He was spotted by Queiroz playing in the lowlands, was called up for the first time in 2012 and ‘Gucci’ has not looked back. Quite the opposite, he is already looking forwards to a potential journey to Russia in two years’ time.
“We have a big goal that we want to be there in 2018,” a focused Ghoochannejhad said. “We have been unbeaten [in qualifying] so far, so that’s very positive. I am very confident that we are going to finish the deal [against India and Oman] because we have a good manager, a good staff and good players.”
His focus may be on the pitch at the moment, but to go alongside his off-the-pitch language, law and violin studies, Ghoochannejhad also interacts with Iran’s fervent following on social media. When asked about his use of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, his response is remarkably frank.
“Having those accounts is very important, but I’m not going to lie, social media is a bit of a fake world,” Ghoochannejhad said. “It’s something, because of my job, that I have to have but it’s not something that my life depends on. The pages that I made are out of respect for the supporters. That’s the main reason, to give a little glimpse into my life.”
With such a vast array of talents off the pitch, what does the future – and perhaps a post-playing career – look like for Reza Ghoochannejhad?
“Who knows?” the striker smiled. “I will definitely resume my studies. Maybe not the same subject but something, perhaps in business. I have a lot of ideas, I don’t know where to begin! It’s good, it keeps your mind going and keeps you young. People that know me very well know that I’m not just a football player. I’d like to be more than that and that’s my goal in life.”
Iran fans will be happy with simply seeing Ghoochannejhad’s goals on the pitch, for the time being at least.