Interview With Kaleem Shabout: Introducing Iraq & CD Leganés’ New 6ft 5 Central Defender

How are you finding life in Leganés, Spain?

My transition here has been really straightforward. I speak Spanish quite well as I studied the language for 7 years at high school. I moved here in January and it was a smooth process. I’ve really enjoyed meeting people here, who are mostly welcoming. The city is clean and there’s a lot to do. It’s an extremely pretty place with lots of natural scenery. It’s taken a while getting used to the siestas here, which are really weird as the city completely closes during the afternoon. Compared to Texas, where everything is always open, it was a completely different experience.

Spain introduced a new law soon after my move that made it harder to relocate to Spain. I’m really lucky to be able to make the move when I did. Spain is also taking the situation quite serious as well, where everyone now needs to wear masks. This isn’t the case in Irving, Texas, USA, where I was born and lived until recently.

Settling Down In Spain

Tell us a bit about your background:

My dad is Iraqi and he’s actually played for the Iraqi youth team a while back. My mother is originally Indian but was born Uganda and she later moved to Canada. They both eventually met in Texas, USA and started a family; I’m one of two brothers – I’m 20 and my older brother is 24. Texas is the perfect place to raise a family – especially where I live, where it was multicultural and it was slow paced. My dad has always been a footballer and he throw me into the game. There’s a heavy Latino population in Texas, who are always keen to play football. This helped drew me into the game and helped me grow my love for football.

A Towering Presence In The Defence

How did you start off your football career?

I started playing football when I was 3 – we have a recreational league where you play just for fun. When I was 8, I joined a club called Solar, which was quite competitive and helped me develop at an early age. I started playing as an attacking midfielder initially but around the age of 15, I started growing a lot in height. I’m currently 6ft 5 and I naturally transitioned into a centre back thanks to my advantage. I stayed at Solar for a long time until I was 14, before moving to Andromeda FC for a few years as it was a good opportunity. I moved back to Solar when I was 16 and continued until 19, where I played in the National League. We got to compete against the best teams across the country. In my last year there, we finished 2nd in the league. It was an incredible experience and I learnt everything about football there, especially about being confident in my ability when surrounded by other great talents.

I started my college life at UNCA to study Business Management in 2019 for one semester, before completing another semester at CCU. I soon made the move to Spain afterwards. Due to Covid-19, I was playing for a semi-professional team called FORO in Texas. I was lucky because a coach saw me playing and he organised for me to go to Spain for a trial. It was always my dream to play professionally and out of nowhere, I received this opportunity. I was worried about my career opportunities because of Covid and then out of nothing, I end up playing in Spain. I couldn’t believe it.

I paid for my flight and arrived for the trial in January after seriously preperation in the US, but as I landed, it snowed heavily, and I was stuck indoors for an entire week. I lost my fitness and sharpness – being stuck indoors made me even more nervous. The trial was tough, and I was asked to play as a right midfielder for the first few sessions, but I did well. I even managed to score a few times! When I started playing in my natural position, I really started to show what I can do on the pitch. I love to play the ball out from the back and help create chances from deep, but I can also get stuck when I need to – Spanish football really suits me in this sense.

What has your time at CD Leganés been like?

It’s been a great experience training daily with top players and I have teammates from all over the world. We have different languages, but we all talk in Spanish and a few of the guys even speak English, which has helped me feel at home. Playing football has been the best way for me to overcome my homesickness as it takes my mind of everything. I’m currently playing for the U21 team, which has resulted in us having to train separately from the main first team due to Covid. It means I’ve not been able to train in the main facilities but hopefully things will go back to normal soon. I’ve been playing in all the friendly games but I’m waiting for my visa situation to be completed. It’s been two months but Covid has slowed things down, meaning I’ve not been able to play any competitive fixtures. My contract is for the rest of this season so I want to be able to get some minutes under my belt so I can show the staff and team what I’m capable of doing. I’m hoping to work hard and make my way to CD Leganés B if things go as planned.

I’ve never been contacted by the Iraqi FA but it would mean everything to play for Iraq. I’ve always watched Iraq play with my dad for as long as I can remember, and to play for Iraq would be a dream. Younis Mahmoud is one of my heroes – he made the game seem simple, he was good on his feet and scored lots of goals. Iraqi fans have been wonderful in supporting me and I pray that one day I can play in front of them to show them what I can do. Thank you for all the support.

A Ball-Playing CB

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