On Thursday, Iraq came close to leaving pointless in Vietnam and now sit tight second, two points adrift of leaders Thailand. After three games, the four-team Group F looks nowhere near being decided and there’s one factor that is being pinpointed for Iraq’s non-existent dominance: long-standing, and now seemingly peaking, off-field issues that are reaching boiling point. Here, our guest writer Hassanane Balal sheds some light on these issues.
Ali Adnan has dropped a bombshell on Iraqi TV, where he held nothing back in his attack against the Iraqi Football Federation. The Udinese wingback was previously involved in an outburst via his social media accounts, where he claimed to have spent two days sleeping at airports just to make the journey to join the national camp. Now, Ali Adnan took to a football panel show, where he described his journey to and from Vietnam, whilst highlighting other players having to endure even more gruelling journeys.
Iraq legend and former FC Twente midfielder Nashat Akram recently told IraqFootball.me how he expected incidents such as the Yaser Kasim and Younis Mahmoud quarrel to become a regular occurrence due to the atrocious conditions the national team is currently under. He also blamed it on the FA and Ministry of Sports and Youth, claiming they lacked knowledge and experience in planning and organisation.
Ali Adnan’s latest outbursts builds on his recent attack, where he told his followers how he had to endure sleeping in an airport for two days in order to make it to the World Cup qualifier against Vietnam. The superstar continued in similar fashion on Iraq’s popular football show ‘The Road To Russia 2018’. Such was his rage, the presenter tried to calm Ali down to press him for further answers, but the player continued, expressing frustration at fans and media for labelling players as failures whenever Iraq has a poor game.
There has been a lot of talk recently surrounding the atrocious treatment of expat players in Iraq after Yaser Kasim declared his retirement from the national team. This followed a comical episode where, it is claimed, members within the squad had filmed Yaser sat on a poolside talking to an unknown woman. The footage was later leaked and was used to destroy the integrity of the player. The player has since made a U-turn on his decision and even featured in the 1-1 draw in Hanoi.
Corruption is rife in the Iraqi FA and this is simply another example highlighting the disregard shown towards those in the squad. Ahmed Yasin, another player to feature against Vietnam, was given an economy ticket for his 23-hour flight from Denmark to Vietnam. Bizarrely, Yasin’s text messages to Basil Gorgis (team manager) were leaked, possibly to turn fans against the player. In them, he claimed he couldn’t make the flight on economy and he had his club career to worry about too.
Portugal-based Osama Rashid of SC Farense described similar experiences that backed Ali Adnan’s ordeal. His flight to the team’s training camp was booked on the same day as his match for Farense, meaning he was unable to attend. After asking for the ticket to be changed, the administrators were unable to do so claiming Yahya Alwan needed to confirm his interest in including the player in his squad – all this after SC Farense received official papers asking for the player’s release for international duty.
Evidently, recent events have shown that it is not only expats who suffer under the Iraqi FA’s wrath. Ali Adnan had this to say:
“Nobody is experiencing the pain that Iraqi players are currently suffering. I want all the Iraqi fans to hear this, especially those blaming players like myself, Younis Mahmoud, Noor Sabri and others in the squad. How much longer should we remain quiet? Let us talk truthfully for a second, because I’ve been brought up to be honest. When I see an injustice, I’ll stand up and point it out, even if it ends up ending my career as a footballer.
What is happening right now, even animals would not put up with. How long does it have to remain like this? How long before the media and fans speak up? When the national team loses, they go ballistic and rip the team to shreds. If a player retaliates, they label him “the worst human on Earth”. When are we finally going to progress and become equals with the rest of the world? In any other team, if there’s an issue highlighted, after two or three days, the problem is fixed completely. Our problems have been ongoing for years and nobody has spoken a word.
Let the world know what it’s like being an Iraqi footballer. I’ve just flown from Italy, and before anyone excuses me of being arrogant about where I play, it’s quite the contrary – I’ve never once divided myself from any of the local players. I travel from my games in one of the biggest leagues in the world and arrive one day before matches for the national team as a result of atrocious administrative work. I can’t take it anymore. I’ve travelled across the entire world via four airports to play against Vietnam. It’s not my job to be booking tickets.
I received my plane ticket one day before I had to fly out for the Vietnam match. After my Udinese game finished, I received a phone call from Basil Gorgis that same night telling me my ticket had been changed to tomorrow morning. I was told to keep it quiet and not make a big deal. I’d just finished a match for my club, had no rest and was supposed to stop at the four terminals before finally arriving at Vietnam to play the next day. How am I supposed to play properly under those conditions? Sometimes I even book my own tickets without telling anybody. I’m used to all these problems, but the fact they changed my flight and informed me hours before has annoyed me more than ever. Whenever I call looking for answers, nobody gives you an honest reply.
As soon as I arrived in Vietnam, I asked Basil Gorgis for my return ticket – I know what they’re like. He told me “tomorrow morning”. The next day I returned to him again and he told me, “Focus on the game, Ali. Don’t worry about the tickets”. I told him that my focus was on the game before I’d even landed, but I still need my return ticket as it’s a protocol for me to inform Udinese of my flight arrangements. I also needed peace of mind. He continued to delay the matter until after the match finished, where he told me I had to leave the next day. The ticket was from Vietnam to Bangkok, including an hour and a half transit. From there, I had to take a seven-hour flight to Doha, and stay eleven hours in transit. Then, I went to Milan, which meant another two hours until I got to my city. When I asked why my booking was like this, they told me “there were no tickets available”.
When we got to Doha, that’s when the fights started. Yahya Alwan saw it all. My ticket to Milan was at 2am at night. I could’ve gone directly to my city in less than a day. These issues I’m raising are only what I’ve had to endure. Some of the other players who’ve come from Basra are yet to arrive home. My case is comfortable compared to the rest. None of us were allowed at the airport hotel. Not even me. I swear to you, I, Samih Saeed and Younis Mahmoud had to share one bed mattress between the three of us. Ali Hosni, Karrar, Marwan Hussain and two other players had to share one room. This was all after we had to spend hours sleeping on the floors [of airports] whilst people walked passed taking pictures.
Players in the airports have to drag their own luggage, some others have had their bags and passports lost, others don’t know which way to go. If you saw it, I swear you’d cry. That’s it; we have to draw a line now. We all have to take responsibility for the Vietnam match, including the players. However, a footballer has to arrive for a match 100% focused and ready. You can’t have players turning up for games in a panic over his return ticket home being arranged in time. Others have their legs and arms strapped after the journeys they’ve endured. There are many factors preventing Iraqi players from performing properly.
Your [media and fans] job is to ask what the administration and those in charge of Iraqi football are doing. For me, that’s it. If you brought the best players in the world and put them in our conditions, they wouldn’t be able to play a single pass. I’ve seen people attack so many of our players, but I don’t say this as a defence for us.
The conditions weren’t as bad under Radhi Shneishil, but they still occurred. In a month’s time, our situation will probably be even worse than it is. Nothing should be hidden anymore. If the other players claim to be brave, then I ask them to stand up and tell the world the truth. I’ll take responsibility for what’ll happen to me. I’m a brave man and I can no longer stay quiet.”
That’s all very sad read, but one can only hope the players united and finally tell the fans the truth. The only way for Iraqi football to progress beyond the current crisis is for those in charge to be removed from power and replaced. Hopefully others will follow in the footsteps of Ali Adnan and reveal to the world the injustices Iraqi footballers have to suffer. Enough is enough.