I am of a Kurdish origin, from Iraq. My mom was born in Sulaymaniyah and my father was born in Halabja. We moved to Sweden to seek refuge from the government who were in power at the time. It was a difficult journey to get to Sweden and we had to pass through many different countries before we settled there. We chose Sweden because it was a good country to try and make a better life for our family, for which I am very grateful. At home, we of course only ever speak Kurdish – we’ve never forgotten our routes. However, both my parents are fluent in both Arabic and Farsi too. My parents split up after a few of years in Sweden, and both eventually remarried and had other kids, so we’re a big family now. I have a younger brother of the age 13 who also loves to play football.
For as long as my memory takes me back, I have always played and loved football – I still do! My favourite place on Earth is on a football pitch – nothing else matters to me whilst I’m there. When you’re on the field and playing a match, the only thing that matters is the here and now. Whatever happened in your past, or will happen in your future, doesn’t matter at that moment. The only thing that does matter is what you do on that pitch in that given moment. I always knew I would make it as a footballer since I was good enough. However, what truly made me stand out was that I wanted this success more than anyone else.
I started my career off at a very early age in AIK. I was only around 13 when I initially joined them but was kicked out soon after turning 22. My time there was amazing though but of course there are always areas that weren’t so good. However, AIK was where I really learned to play football. They gave me an education in how to play and taught me the foundations of the game. I still use their lessons today to improve my game. I ask myself everyday “what if things had been different at AIK?”, when thinking about my time there. Whilst it doesn’t make me sad, that question remains lingering there in the background. Overall, I’ve come to terms with my struggles there and I’m at peace with the situation.
After being kicked out from AIK, I really hit rock-bottom in my life. It was horrible in so many ways that most people cannot even imagine – football-wise, physically, mentally, and everything else just started falling apart. If it wasn’t for Dalkurd, I would not still be breathing today because I was heading in a very dangerous direction. I’ve said it numerous times to many people: Dulkurd literally saved my life, not only by signing me by believing in me when I felt no one else did.
I was heading into a dangerous path and suffered from drug addiction for many years – it’s something I am still recovering from even today. I started to get involved in criminal activity during my time before Dulkurd and my life was becoming worse every day. I felt like I had no control over it. The club took me in and understood I had a serious problem, and they offered me the best help possible. Again, there are a lot of regrets in this chapter of my life, which used to make me depressed. However, recovering during my time with Dulkurd taught me a lot about life and I don’t have any regrets now. I’m just grateful for my comeback and that I’m still alive today to be able to play professional football. There’s a reason for everything and it’s safe to say that I lost out on some opportunities in my life, including being able to play at the very highest levels in football. However, my experiences allowed me to grow as a human and allowed me to become the man I am today.
My time in Östersunds FK was like a dream. All the players felt like we’d won the jackpot by having Graham Potter as a coach, whilst all the other staff were amazing and supported us during out journey. If AIK taught me to play football, it was Östersunds who made me as a player. The difference between how I saw football before and how I see football now is enormous. I was previously set in my ways when it came to football, where I was thinking I knew everything about the game. However, when I was I at Östersund, my eyes were opened. Graham and his team would blow my mind away with their training sessions and how they saw football. They’ve taught me to make good decisions on the pitch and how to make the right choices. I had the basic tools already – for example, how to pass a ball – but they took that skill and perfected my ability to choose the right pass at the right time, and to understand what reason that pass was made.
Our run in the Europa League was incredible but I didn’t feel any pressure during my time playing in the competition, despite us reaching the knockout stages of the competition. It was just about enjoying every single minute of it. To be there, and to play the way we did against such huge teams, such as Arsenal, it was a dream come true – especially considering all I have been through. Loads of people doubted me and said I was finished, and here I was leading my team as captain. It was pure bless! The coach believed in me to lead the team and captaining Östersund felt completely natural. I was extremely proud to wear the armband.
I have been in Sweden all my life and I pretty much know the name of all the players in the league, the appearance of all the dressing rooms and how every team plays. It was now time for a new challenge and for me to come out of my comfort zone. I had offers from Turkey but after what happened in Galatasaray, when I scored against them in the Europa League, I didn’t think it would be safe for me to play in their league. I also had offers from other countries such as Qatar, but that meant I would end up missing out on playing in the Europa League, so of course I was not prepared to sign for them at that point. I wouldn’t have missed our Europa League campaign for the world.
Bali has been an interesting experience in many ways – the levels in the league have not been the same as Sweden, but it’s not what people in Iraq think of it as. I’m happy living in this paradise and trying to develop my football further here. It’s a new and interesting challenge, where I’m learning every single day.
My time with Iraq was brief and it wasn’t the best either. In the beginning, I did not expect much but as I spent more time with the national team, I started to really love it. However, I never felt any manager had confidence in me, except for Basim Qasim, who allowed me to start games. I felt my performances were okay but they weren’t amazing in one or two other matches. I was still playing and adapting to how the national team plays football, which is completely different to Europe. I’ll never forget how sad I felt when Japan scored their last minute goal in Tokyo, after we played really well to hold them back – we deserved more from the game. My goal for Iraq when we played in Basra for the first time in years will always be special for me, as will making my debut against UAE away from home.
My decision to leave the national team was based on two points: Firstly, the coaching staff didn’t show me any belief. When I joined, they told me I was there to help the team prepare for the 2019 Asian Cup. After I had started to find my feet with the team, playing games regularly and feeling confident, the manager pushed me away. Two months after joining, I was not even being chosen for the squad. The second point is that I made my decision to leave quickly and hastily. I have learned that you should never make big decisions when you’re angry, happy or sad, but I did in this instance. Whether I regret this decision or not is a different question altogether. The manager didn’t think I was good enough and some fans hated me for being in the team. It’s as if they thought I became a terrible player overnight since I was performing so well for my club – of course, there are different factors that impact on your performance for a team.
Whenever I have discussed why I wasn’t given a proper chance with the national team, everyone tells me that it was all to do with politics. I didn’t succeed for the national team because I didn’t fit into what they define as good, or what was required of a player. It’s also been the same during my first six months in Bali – it takes time for a player to adapt and get used to the way a team plays. For me to survive in Indonesia, I had to observe the ways of their culture and football to find a way to adapt my game to this. However, in Bali, they have given me time to adapt and make this transition. I didn’t receive this support or time in Iraq. With more time and trust, things would have been different.
I don’t think I would go back to Sweden any time soon. However, if the right offer from a good team comes in from the big leagues, I would have to consider it. However, this is not something I’m thinking about right now. We are winning the league with Bali United and hopefully qualifying for the Asian Champions League, so I’m happy where I am right now but I don’t want to shut any doors just yet – you never know what the future holds in football. This is also how I feel about Iraq too – I would be happy to have another chance with the national team to prove myself and I’d accept that opportunity in a second. This will all depend if the new coach thinks I’m good enough to play and trusts me by giving me a proper opportunity.
For all the fans who still love me, I love you all more than you could ever imagine. The respect and affection you have all showed towards me, and continue to show, are why every footballer gets up in the morning ready to work. For that, I want to thank you all. God bless.