Ahmed Yasin was the first Iraqi player to feature regularly in the national team despite playing in a foreign country his entire career. Thanks to the excellent work of Iraqi Professional Players, an organisations that scouts the world for Iraqi expat footballers, Yasin was able to make his first team debut for Iraq and has continued to feature for his country since.
There have been many expat Iraqis who have played abroad but never quite made the cut for various reasons. However, players like Osama Rashid, Yaser Kasim and Justin Meram have all been involved in the national team setup. Despite their occasional inclusion, a huge number of other expats have been overlooked. For those lucky enough to be included, the managers and the FA have made it extremely uncomfortable for them to establish themselves in the team.
We have discussed five reasons why Iraqi expat footballers have had such a difficult time establishing themselves with the national team:
Issues organising paperwork
There are many expat players who have been forced to chase shadows in their pursuit of Iraqi citizenship. Acquiring the correct paperwork to be eligible to represent the national team should be a straightforward and quick process, rather than a dire chase. Players like Neil Yadolahi and Shwan Jalal have been forced to wait years with minimal support from the Iraqi FA or Olympics Committee.
Regardless of the player or their talents, the national team should be doing there upmost to grant these players citizenship as it gives them a wider pool of talent to choose from. Instead, corruption and carelessness has resulted in many players being put off from even trying to represent the national team and instead opting to represent other countries that they may be eligible for.
Nepotism & Corruption
Players who have long been established in the national team can exert their influence over the manager and force their inclusion in the national team setup, thus eliminating any spaces that may have been available to expat players. There has long been accusations of players even buying their way into the national team due to them lending money and donating to the Iraqi FA, who often complain about a shortage of funds. This practice has no place in sports and, should the rumours be proven to be true, the entire FA should be forced to pack their bags and withdraw from their positions.
Poor Scouting Network
Most national teams have a professional network of scouts and coaches who trawl across the world looking for players eligible to represent their countries. Moreover, they will send their coaches to watch expat players perform for their clubs and feedback their findings to the manager. With Iraq, there is nothing of the sort available. Besides the work done by Iraqi Professional Players, it would be essentially impossible for an expat footballer to make contact with the national team directly. Moreover, the national team has no methods of searching for players abroad and relies completely on Iraqi Professional Players – an organisation set up independently and receiving no funding from the FA.
Sometimes racism can occur even amongst the same nationality. Expats are often treated differently when they return home to Iraq. They are unfairly labelled as traitors for ‘abandoning their countries’ and ‘not living through the country’s hardships’, as if this makes them any less Iraqi than those who lived there from birth. This backwards mentality has unfortunately seeped through to the national team, where the FA and coaches like Hakim Shakir have been unfair to the many expat players available for selection. They have treated them as if they are second-class citizens, despite them all being from the same country. Until the national team stops labelling these players as ‘expats’ and starts seeing them as ‘Iraqis’, we will continue to see these players mistreated.
During the Gulf Cup, Hakim Shaker told him [Ahmed Yasin] ‘You have not trained and you’re not ready’, but he [Yasin] insisted he was fit, and then the coach went onto say that he did not like his hair and should cut it.
Before a game, he once asked Ahmed “Do you love Iraq, you’re not Iraqi, you did not live in Iraq and you know nothing about Iraq.”
– Excerpts from IraqiSport
One of the many dangers to using age fraud in the national team is that it prevents young expats from earning a call up with the national team. Young players like Abdulla Al-Kalisy, who was recently called up with the Iraqi Olympics team for the U23 Asian Cup, is competing with players far older than him for a chance in the starting XI. This makes it impossible for the young expats to earn a breakthrough with the national team and stops them from developing their careers further, since they are unable to get enough minutes playing first team football.