Ignoring the political animosity between the two countries, an Iranian-born player made his debut alongside two Israeli players in the top English soccer league on Tuesday evening.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh appeared for Premier League team Brighton & Hove Albion FC in a warmup match against OGC Nice, which the English team won 1-0.
Since 2015 Brighton & Hove Albion, known as the Seagulls, has also been the soccer home of Tomer Hemed, a Jewish Israeli, and Beram Kayal, an Arab Israeli.
All three players were in the starting lineup at Tuesday’s friendly.
Midfielder Jahanbakhsh, who joined the team last Wednesday, said he received a great welcome from the rest of the team. “All the boys have been great and I’ve settled quickly,” he said in an interview published on the team’s website.
Jahanbakhsh joined the Seagulls from Dutch team AZ Alkmaar for a club record transfer fee reported to be $22 million, making him the most expensive Iranian player of all time.
In 2015, when playing for Alkmaar, Jahanbakhsh refused to play against the Israeli team Maccabi Tel Aviv.
A spokesman for the player told The New Arab news site that Jahanbakhsh was excited about teaming up in the midfield alongside two Israelis.
“Alireza was young when Alkmaar played the Israeli team and he was afraid about his future. It’s not an issue when Iranian players play with Israeli teammates — only if they play against them,” he said.
“At the end of the day football is a profession. I can tell you that Reza is very excited to play alongside a Jewish teammate and to show that in football, they are all one. He is very excited for his time in England,” he added.
Iran does not recognize the Jewish state and bars its athletes from appearing against Israelis, but cannot openly ban players because it breaches international regulations.
Last summer two Iranian players, Masoud Shojaei, 33, and Ehsan Haji Safi, 28, were supposedly banned for life after playing an Israeli team for their Greek club Panionios, but they were still included in Iran’s 23-man lineup for the 2018 World Cup.