x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Mohamed Ahmed an accidental footballer for Al Shabab

The midfielder orginally wanted to play for Shabab's handball team, but a twist of fate sent him on a different career path.

Mohamed Ahmed will be going to the London Olympics with the UAE team. Jung Yeon-JE / AFP
Mohamed Ahmed will be going to the London Olympics with the UAE team. Jung Yeon-JE / AFP

Mohamed Ahmed never had any ambitions of playing professional football as a boy.

He was a handball player and was determined to follow in the footsteps of his elder brother Shehab and play in the Al Shabab handball team.

Then fate took over and Ahmed will soon be packing his bags to leave for the London Games as the UAE make their first appearance in the football competition at the Olympics.

And he hopes the Games will provide him with a stage to land a contract to play in a bigger league outside the Emirates.

Ahmed first arrived at Shabab club as a seven year old and for the next three years trained with the junior handball teams, hoping to one day wear the club's green jersey like his brother.

Then, after one training sessions, Ahmed and his friends were unwinding by playing an impromptu game of football.

One of the club's football coaches happened to be passing and he immediately noticed the potential of the youngster.

"He saw me and asked why I am not playing football. I said, 'I don't know, I play handball'," Ahmed said.

"So he invited me to play football and thought I was good at it."

Ahmed played both sports for the next few months, but was eventually forced to make a choice.

"It was difficult choosing between handball and football," he said. "I was good at handball and enjoyed the game, but around the age of 11 I started playing football."

Twelve years after making that decision, Ahmed is pleased with the choices he made.

Had he picked handball, the youngster would probably have made the Shabab squad and even gone on to play for the national team, but he would never have got recognition that football has brought him.

As a part of the country's "Golden Generation", the defender has numerous winners' medal at the GCC level, was a member of the UAE team who reached the quarter-finals of the 2009 Youth World Cup in Egypt. Now he is off to the Olympics.

"Obviously, it is a dream come true," said Ahmed, who will be visiting London for the first time. "Every sportsmen dream of representing their country at the Olympics and I feel honoured that I was part of the first UAE team to qualify for the Games."

Ahmed is also hoping his performances at the Olympics will impress scouts and help him in achieving his dream of playing overseas like his fellow defender in the Olympic team, Hamdan Al Kamali, who plays for Lyon in France.

"I don't really have a preference," Ahmed said. "I would love to play anywhere outside the country. I don't mind where I play, I just want to experience playing as a professional. So I hope I can perform in London and get noticed."

Ahmed understands the challenges, both cultural and footballing, he is likely to face if he ever gets the chance to play in one of the leagues in Europe.

He does not feel daunted by them though and wants experience the life of a true professional.

"Every player wants to play outside [the country], in the bigger leagues," he said. "It's the challenge that drives a sportsman.

"When you are playing as a professional outside, in a good league, people look up to you.

"Your performance improves automatically because of the environment - the training, players that you play alongside and against … everything.

"You eat well, you sleep well; you are living as a professional 24/7 and your mindset changes completely; not like here where you [go to] sleep at 3am. And you don't want to know what we eat."

For the moment, though, Ahmed is keen on helping his club finish among the top three in the Pro League.

With three rounds to play, Shabab are second with 36 points, 10 behind Al Ain who have already clinched the title. Al Jazira are in third on 35, while Al Nasr are a further point behind and Paulo Bonamigo is pleased to have his Olympic man back as the team battle for the positions that will decide the country's representative in Asia for next year.

"He is a top player and we all know that," the Shabab coach said. "He has not spent a lot of time at the club because of his duties with the national team, but Ahmed is always an asset when he is back."

Once the domestic season is over, the Olympic-bound team will reassemble with Mahdi Ali, the coach, preparing them for a tough group stage that includes Great Britain, Senegal and Uruguay.

Ahmed would have liked a better draw, but is confident Mahdi Ali, like always, will have a plan in place.

"He has been like a big brother to me," Ahmed said. "He is the captain on the field, but off the field, he is your father, brother. He will sit with us and we play cards, we joke. But on the field, he is very serious and I am scared of him on the field.

"He has a plan for everything. At the Youth World Cup, he told us, 'If you want to be somebody, you have to win here, make something at this tournament. Everybody will notice you, talk about you'.

"And we went out and gave everything we had. In London, we will be looking to do the same."

arizvi@thenational.ae

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