Wednesday March 14 2018
Exclusive: Adnan proud to represent Iraq

The Udinese left-back spoke to Football Italia's Ramez Nathan about his childhood in Iraq and how his generation fought against all odds to play their beloved game. 

Born and raised in war-torn Baghdad, Ali Adnan became the first ever representative from Iraq to play in Serie A. It was a very long road to get here.

"It was not easy to play football in Iraq, as a kid I struggled to even to reach the stadium and train with my colleagues.

"However, all that was happening didn't stop me or any of the Iraqi players from playing football. For us it was the only source of light in a dark tunnel.

"I suffered a lot to reach where I am today, knowing what Iraq has been going through in the last few decades.

"The situation has vastly improved, we can play matches on our home ground now, and we are finally able to compete for the AFC Asian Cup.

"I am glad all the countries of the Middle East are recovering, women attending football games is a clear sign of that. I hope that our stadiums constantly stay full and may we always learn to live in peace and most importantly enjoy the beauty of the game of football."

The two people that inspired Adnan as a child also shaped the dreams of an entire nation back then. His father Adnan Kadhim was part of the Iraqi team that won the 1977 AFC Youth Championship, while his uncle Ali Kadhim is considered one of the best strikers in the history of Iraq's national team.

"I thank God for what they have taught me every day. Sadly my uncle has passed away a couple of years ago. He and my father were my role models as a kid.

"Growing up my idol has been Roberto Carlos, as we share the same position on the pitch. From the current players I look up to Marcelo and I hope one day I can offer my team a glimpse of what these Brazilians had."

In his youth days, Adnan represented the club Baghdad FC, but it was not until he took part in the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup that his talent began to shine beyond borders.

Iraq's first game at the competition was against England and thanks to Adnan they managed to pull a shocking result, as the left-back shattered the English defence with his scintillating dribbling skills and his deadly boots found a last gasp equalizer to end the game 2-2. It was the beginning of a remarkable story, as the Lions of Mesopotamia took their virtuoso performances all the way to the semi-finals, where they were knocked out on penalties by Uruguay. 

"After the World Cup I had a number of offers from Europe and I even had an offer from Galatasaray, but I opted to move to Çaykur Rizespor. It was a small club in Turkey where I was guaranteed a starting spot and that is what you need at the age of 20.

"Rizespor is one of the biggest reasons behind my current success, I spent two great years there, I faced top players like Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder and because of my performances there, I am an Udinese player now.

"Before the end of my second season in Turkey, I had already started negotiations with Udinese and although Rizespor rejected a number of initial offers, my agent Christian Emile managed to make this deal happen with the club that has been scouting me since the World Cup."

The left-back moved to the Friuliani for a fee around €2.2m, and he immediately hit the ground running, as he earned the trust of Stefano Colantuono from day one and recorded his first win on his debut in the Allianz Stadium.

"Colantuono is the one of the best and most intelligent Coaches I've ever worked with and on a personal level I owe him a lot for putting all this faith in me from the very start of my journey in Italy.

"My Serie A debut was one of the most special moments of my life, to win my first game against Juventus in their stadium is huge. 

"Playing in Turkey was way easier than here in Italy, you've got to step up your tactical game if you're willing to play in this country. Nobody, including myself, expected that I'd get a starting spot here that soon."

Adnan enjoyed a great spell with the bald-headed Coach, but it’s never the simple route and a change of management almost forced the Iraqi talent out of Udine.

"After Colantuono left, I still had a lot of playing time under Luigi De Canio and Giuseppe Iachini, but when Luigi Del Neri came everything changed. He decided early on that as a footballer I didn't have what qualifies me to play for him.

"That didn't stop me from running towards my goal every day, I trained as hard as I can and I believe that whenever I got a chance to play for Del Neri, I proved I can be one of his best players. Unfortunately nothing was enough to convince him, I always returned to the bench and it was the toughest time of my professional career.

"I think in my situation any other player would have left, but thank God I didn't, because afterwards Massimo Oddo stepped in."

With the arrival of Oddo, a young Coach brimming with a new philosophy for the Zebrette, he turned the Iraqi full-back from a man hitting rock bottom to a cornerstone at the Dacia Arena.

"Everything changed when Oddo came, not just for me but for the whole squad. He transformed the way we play and it boosted our performances, as we became one of the best sides in Serie A and got great results upon his arrival.

"With Oddo I got my starting spot back and due to his belief in me, I regained my self-confidence and strength on the field, which made me offer my best displays since joining the club."

Adnan has shown some outstanding displays with the new Coach, pulling a higher rate of tackles than any left-back in the competition, accompanied by his ability to march forward and beat the opponents with his dancing feet. 

Sadly the Iraqi international had a long-term injury and with it the team's results dropped too. 

"I was out for 45 days due to injury, and during that time the team got really unlucky in its results, but as a lot of players and myself are back now, we hope to regain our form in the very near future."

As the first player from Iraq to make it to the grand stage of Italian football, Adnan is thankful for everything he has achieved and looks up to the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Juan Cuadrado who have blessed Udinese with their presence, yet never stopped chasing their dreams of reaching the top.

"It's a huge privilege for me to be writing history for my beloved country. If it wasn't for Iraq and the Iraqi fans I would have never made it this far, It is a huge honour and responsibility to represent Iraq on a stage as grand as Serie A.

"Iraq is filled with talented players that can play in Europe, I really hope they will catch their break and move to play here soon. 

"I am grateful for my time here and I am hopeful my next stop will be one of the top teams."

Whatever happens next, the Iraqi will approach his next step with humility, a head full of dreams and a consuming passion for his nation and the game.

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