Footballer Ali Al Hamadi wants to 'put Iraq on the map' as he signs with Swansea City
The teenager has ambitions bigger than football: Iraqi pride
Ali Al Hamadi wants to put Iraq back on the sports map after signing a professional contract with British Championship club Swansea City this week.
The young footballer left Iraq in 2002 after dictator Saddam Hussein jailed Al Hamadi's father for being an anti-government activist.
Al Hamadi said he believed that coming from a humble background allowed him to become a symbol of hope for aspiring Iraqi athletes.
“I want Iraqis to look at me and say that is possible because I had a similar journey to many people,” Al Hamadi, 18, told The National.
He fled to Jordan with his mother and stayed there until he was 3, when his family was reunited in the UK.
“I didn’t see my father until I was about 3 years old,” he said.
He said he still had relatives in Iraq but had not been back in recent years.
The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, followed by years of neglect, decimated the country’s sports industry, with the rise of sectarian violence and lack of good governing causing fans to stay away and teams to falter.
Iraqis have had little chance and support to thrive in the sporting industry, he said.
“I think having people of our nation represented in high levels of society will always be a good thing,” he said.
But football is more than a sport to Al Hamadi and he said he wanted to show the world that Iraqis could do anything if they had the support.
“It’s bigger than football for me. I want to grow, put Iraq back on the map again where the world can see that we can produce good footballers, athletes, politicians and much more,” he said.
It’s bigger than football for me, I want to grow, put Iraq back on the map again where the world can see that we can produce good footballers, athletes, politicians and much more.
Ali Al Hamadi
“It’s a privilege and I want to continue to work hard.”
In 2007, Iraq's national team confounded the odds and won the AFC Asian Cup.
The triumph briefly united a nation that was tearing itself apart.
“We were making progress, but at the end of the day the political and economic side of a country will always affect its football industry. They go hand in hand,” Al Hamadi said.
He said Iraq had many talented footballers but they needed a good support system.
“We need to have a structure and system to put them in to make sure we get their best potential, because if we don't then this will be another wasted generation of good young talented players,” he said.
This is something the country has struggled with for decades.
Al Hamadi's skill was noted after he joined youth team Liverpool Schoolboys when he was 13.
He tried out with both of the city's Premier League clubs, Everton and Liverpool, before joining Tranmere's under-14s.
He had an offer from the club at the end of the 2017-2018 season, but agreed a two-year scholarship at Swansea instead.
“Football was an escape for me when I was younger. From when I was 3 I always used to have a ball wherever I was,” he said.
“As a kid I didn’t suffer from anything, I had a good upbringing with a loving and caring family, but I had something deep inside that felt was missing. I knew that as soon as I picked up a football it would all disappear.”
He received a flood of congratulatory messages on social media after announcing his one-year professional contract.
“I was overwhelmed, shocked and didn’t expect this kind of reaction," he said.
He said Iraqis on Twitter and Instagram described him as “their future”.
The UK Ambassador to Iraq, Stephen Hickey, congratulated Al Hamadi and said “it seems that the Iraqi football team is going from strength to strength".
Al Hamadi said he thrived on pressure and responsibility.
“I like the pressure and liked the idea of performing and doing something good for the people, I thrive on that and I will fulfil as long as I keep going,” he said.
He said he hoped to bring a sense of pride to Iraqis.
Updated: July 9, 2020 02:53 PM