Iraqi football faces its fair share of challenges. Likewise, Iraqi fans are more than happy to vocalise their thoughts on the state of the league, their club’s form and of course our beloved national team. However, Ahmed Jalal’s recent injury has shook the league and fans are reminded once again that football is, after all, nothing more than just a game.
Both Al-Shorta and Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya had aspirations to win their head-to-head tie and move to pole position in the Iraqi Premier League this weekend. It’s been tight at the top of the league this season and a win would have proven vital for both sides. However, the match played out to be nil-nil draw, which sent Al-Jawiya to the top of the league, albeit by only one point. Unfortunately, the match was tainted by a devastating injury to Al-Shorta’s Ahmed Jalal, as the winger collided with Ahmed Ibrahim as he was through on goal.
The winger remained on the floor in agony until the players surrounding him realised the extent of his injuries and the medical team quickly stretchered off the 22 year old to receive medical treatment. The player is a fan-favorite and has been in great form over the last few seasons, even featuring for Iraq on a couple of opportunities. However, given the nature of his injuries, fans were left wondering whether they will ever get to see the player play for club and country again. The extent of the injury is still yet unknown, but it appears to be a horrendous fracture in his leg. Older readers will have seen similar injuries with Luke Shaw and Eduardo da Silva many years ago.
Without bashing the Iraqi league too much, the lack of appropriate medical support available to players during the league has been an ongoing issue. Injured players do not receive the same quality or level of attention professional footballers across the world do. There have even been times were medical support isn’t available during the match and players have had to wait for the game to finish before receiving treatment, which is unforgivable. Given the standard of players the Iraqi league has, you would expect more money to be invest in bringing proper medical teams in order to ensure player safety in the league. Moreover, clubs lack the finances and facilities to help players during their long and arduous rehabilitation from injuries, whether it be physiotherapy or psychological counseling, an area often overlooked in Iraq.
Although such devastating injuries are not a daily occurrence, they are a painful reminder of the dangers involved in the game. Football has always been a working class sport, and many of Iraq’s best players come from humble backgrounds. Many of these players use football as an outlet to lift their families out of poverty and provide food on the table. An example of which would include Muhanad Ali, who came from abject poverty. However, many of these players are only one serious injury away from ending their careers and being unable to provide for their families. Ahmed Jalal’s injury highlights just how easily this can happen to players in the Iraqi league.
Bashar Resan and Muhanad Ali were both linked with moves to Europe at one point in their careers but instead moved to Qatari-based clubs instead. The players can argue that there were other incentives behind their moves but they would be kidding themselves if they didn’t admit that their transfers were partly tempted by the salaries involved – and there’s nothing wrong with that!
Growing up in Iraq and living in poverty, players like Mimi are aware that they can lose form and fall out of favour in the blink of an eye. Football is a fickle game and doesn’t forgive. Rather than making the move to Europe, risk the potential of not playing many games and having to prove themselves again on a lower salary, Mimi could argue that he’s better off sticking to Qatar, where he’ll earn substantially more than he would in Europe and be a guaranteed starter for his club. Given his young age, that money will play a huge role in securing the future of his family. The average career of a player in the top division is roughly 15 years, followed by their retirement and a need to find an alternative income. Earning a large salary in Qatar would be difficult to turn down when you’re his age and from his poor background.
Critical fans would argue that this move lacks ambition and that the player should be looking to move to Europe, where they can develop further and earn more money by securing further transfers to bigger clubs in the future. Whilst I also want to see our players do well in the best leagues across the world, fans need to also see things from the perspective of the players. Someone like Bashar could make the move to Europe and pick up an injury that will destroy his career, making it impossible for him to make that big-money move he was hoping to achieve in the long-run. Rather than take that risk, he would be better off securing that money at a young age and then make the move to Europe at a later age when he has saved up enough money to look after his family. This is especially the case for Bashar, who went months without receiving any money from his Iranian club, Persepolis.
Hopefully Ahmed Jalal makes a full recovery and comes back stronger than ever – however, there will be many examples of other players who have picked up similar injuries and never quite made a full comeback. Fans need to be a little bit more forgiving when it comes to our players and the decisions they make. Most fans only want the best for their heroes and may feel slightly underwhelmed at some of the transfers that they see. However, a more understandable approach is needed when seeing players turning down deals to Europe in favour of big paychecks in the Gulf . It’s time fans realised that many of our players are human after all and want to ensure that their families are able to live comfortably once the player retires. Only then can we, as fans, start to fully support the players and appreciate the difficult decisions they make on a daily basis.