x

Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Mohamed Salah's Iraqi lookalike dreams of following in striker's footsteps

Iraqi footballer Hussein Ali can not leave his house without being stopped for photographs, but the 20-year-old has World Cup ambitions of his own

With his black beard, curly hair and football shirt, Iraqi footballer Hussein Ali is often mistaken for one of the world's top players: Egypt's Mohamed Salah.

In the Iraqi capital Baghdad, Mr Ali, 20, is frequently stopped in his working-class Hurriya neighbourhood by people wanting a photograph with their idol.

Although he is himself a striker, playing reserve football for the Al Zawraa club, it is Ali's likeness to Salah which piques Iraqis' interest.

"At the first training session, he introduced himself as 'Hussein Ali'. I replied, 'No, no, you are Mohamed Salah," said Mr Ali's coach Adnan Mohammad.

Back when Salah was playing for AS Roma, Mr Ali was aware of the resemblance but took the comments as "a joke".

_____________

World Cup 2018

Mohamed Salah and teammates have a chance ‘to make all of Egypt happy’

Group A guide: Hosts Russia under pressure to reach last 16, will Salah be fit for Egypt?

Lowdown: Predictions, podcasts, galleries and where to watch in UAE

In pictures: The World Cup 2018 stadiums in Russia as seen from space

_____________

But when the Egyptian shot to global fame in the Premier League last season, becoming "the number one footballer for all Arabs" according to Mr Ali, his Iraqi doppelganger started to seriously work on his image.

Since then, he has started wearing a Liverpool shirt.

"It's the real shirt, bought from an official supplier," he said proudly from his small home, where the shutters are closed against the Baghdad heat during the long hours of electricity cuts.

Mr Ali said he paid $40 for the shirt, which he takes carefully from its hanger, while working every day to support his large family and without a wage from playing football.

Lately, the "Mohamed Salah of Iraq" can't leave his house without being stopped for photographs or approached by football fans who mistake him for the Egyptian star.

"The day before yesterday I was in a mall; the security guards, the shop workers and the clients, everyone wanted to take a photo with me... even the girls!" said Mr Ali.

He attracts similar attention at his own football matches: "When I played against the Lebanese club Al Ahed, people were taking photos with me for an hour and a half."

Last month Mr Ali joined football fans in the city centre to watch Salah's Liverpool take on Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

"When Mohamed Salah was injured, there were some who came to see me as if it was me who was suffering," he said.

"In my neighbourhood, over a number of days, people who passed me would say 'Get well soon'."

While such confusion amuses him, Mr Ali's similarity to Salah has prompted him to rethink his own life.

Passionate about football since his was little, Ali made it onto the B team of Al Zawraa, Iraq's most decorated club.

One day he hopes to live the same dream as Salah.

"We play in the same position and I do everything to imitate and copy his movements," said Mr Ali.

The Iraqi player is also keen to follow Salah's example off the pitch.

"He reads the Quran and he asks God to help him before his matches. I also read the Quran and pray, like Abu Makkah," said Ali, using a nickname for the Liverpool striker who named his daughter after the Muslim holy city of Makkah.

After Salah's injury fans globally were on tenterhooks to find out if their hero would be going to the World Cup which kicks off on June 14.

He has now been included in The Pharaohs squad and Egyptians will be hoping he can play in Russia.

For Ali, his hopes will rest in one day coming face-to-face with his hero: "My life's dream is to meet Mohamed Salah... Perhaps he will invite me to the World Cup in Russia?"

RELATED ARTICLES
Recommended