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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

'Hussain Messi' - The little Emirati boy with big dreams and the skills to match

On the books of Al Wasl, courted by European clubs and massive sporting brands, a social media sensation - Hussain Yousuf Anwar has the world at his feet. And he is only eight years old.

Hussain Yousuf Anwar will compete in a tournament in Spain, at the behest of Michel Salgado, the former Real Madrid defender. Pawan Singh / The National
Hussain Yousuf Anwar will compete in a tournament in Spain, at the behest of Michel Salgado, the former Real Madrid defender. Pawan Singh / The National

Hussain Yousuf Anwar is an aspiring Dubai-born footballer with Al Wasl.

Apparently, he has already caught the attention of major club in Portugal, although nothing came of it. Next month, he will compete in a tournament in Spain, at the behest of Michel Salgado, the former Real Madrid defender.

A blue-chip sports company is close to finalising an agreement to sponsor Hussain, a deal that could run for the next five years. And on Instagram, an account set up only in April, his number of followers has climbed above 43,000. Some of the videos have topped 300,000 views.

All things considered, not bad for someone who turned eight years old two weeks ago.

‘I've broken 30 lights,” Hussain says proudly from his family home in Al Quoz, explaining that he is forever with a ball in the house, practicing his skills, honing his technique.

Asked how he plans to repay his father Yousuf for the damage incurred, Hussain replies: “I will give him money when I'm professional: Dh1 million.”

Clearly, he is dreaming big. Hussain has become an Instagram hit since Yousuf began posting videos a few months back, mostly of his exploits with the Wasl academy but some of him performing tricks at home as well. He is known now as "Hussain Messi", given his talent and a hairstyle not too dissimilar to Lionel Messi during the Argentine's early years at Barcelona. It sits well.

“Messi is my favourite player,” Hussain says. “I learn from him. I watch him on YouTube on my iPad. The best match was when they played against PSG and won 6-1.”

Yousuf Anwar simply laughs at his son’s answer, proud in not just his footballing knowledge but in his perfect English, sharpened at Raffles International School. Yousuf has been the driving force behind his son’s development, having noticed when Hussain was little more than two years old that he possessed a knack for the beautiful game.

“I could see he was something different compared to other boys that age,” Yousuf says. “I played with the ball every day at home, he saw that and started copying me.”

Now Hussain is the one always juggling the ball – hence the lights – or shooting at the numbered grid drawn on the outside wall of their majlis. Yousuf calls out a figure between one and six, and Hussain dutifully curls the ball into the corresponding square. To date, that particular video has 319,000 views on Instagram.

Hussain seems to have gotten used to the attention, though. A member of Wasl's academy since he was six, he excelled and was soon training with the Under-8 team.

Currently, he features for the U9s, although each Saturday he contests competitions throughout Dubai in the age group below. A striker who likes to play out wide, he is often the standout. And he has the trophies to prove it.

“This is my favourite,” Hussain says, pointing to one of the many trinkets behind him. “Because I got this for being the best player in the whole tournament. I got this one from Al Shabab. And I got this one from Hatta, for scoring the most goals, and I got this from Al Ahli, and this one…”

This month, Hussain travelled to Spain to play in a tournament at Real Madrid's academy. He had trained in Dubai with Salgado’s Spanish Soccer School since the turn of the year - two evenings there, four at Wasl - impressing the two-time Champions League winner enough to earn an invite. There, Hussain played five matches. He certainly made his mark.

“I scored four goals,” he says. “I assisted six also.”

Thus, Salgado has asked Hussain specifically to attend another competition in Spain next month, separate from the soccer school.

“First thing, thank you Spanish Soccer School, thank you Michel Salgado, thank you coach Miguel,” Hussain says, prompted by Yousuf.

Before that, there should be a contract with Nike, where Hussain will wear the company’s logo regularly on Instagram. There is even talk of a promotion involving Omar Abdulrahman, UAE football’s prize asset.

Hussain has become familiar to the Emirates’ pro footballers, with members of the national team last month posting a video sending their encouragement, telling him to “work hard” and “try to do your best”.

Although Yousuf is keen to hammer home that schoolwork comes first, he has played a key role in Hussain’s rocketing profile. The two share a love of football, and thanks to Yousuf’s prolific output on social media, everyone else shares in that, too.

READ MORE: Omar Abdulrahman to Nice is vital for the Al Ain captain and UAE football

“Everybody sees them, people from all over the Arab world and some in Europe,” Yousuf says. “They say ‘God look after him’, ‘please let him stay at Al Wasl’, ‘please let him go to Europe’. Too many private messages, more than 2000 now. I can’t answer them all. I use only one media, because if I have two, I’ll go crazy. Every time I open my eyes I will have thousands messaging me.”

Yousuf posts a video on Instagram of Hussain mid-interview, a clip in which his son references Fabio de Lima, Caio and Ronaldo Mendes as his favourite players at Wasl. Within the hour, it has been viewed 1,600 times. Mendes, currently training with the Arabian Gulf League club in Germany, responds with a heart emoji.

The Brazilian should see more of Hussain at Wasl for the next few years at least - Al Ain have registered an interest - before Yousuf will then decide if Europe represents the next step. There, Hussain would be closer to achieving his dream, although for an eight-year-old with albeit obvious talent, that remains a long way off yet.

“I want to be the best player in the world,” Hussain says, ball stuck to his foot. “Better than Messi.”