Iraqi soccer star Ahmed Yasin talking about everything but national anthems

Iraqi footballer Ahmed Yasin

He plays for one of Sweden’s top football clubs, has been compared to Cristiano Ronaldo and carries the sporting hopes of 33 million people on his shoulders. In a few months, if all goes to plan, the Baghdad-born winger will help Iraq qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Here’s a Q&A with Ahmed Yasin I did for Gulf Airways’ inflight magazine, Gulf Life. No, it has nothing to do with national anthems, the usual remit of this blog. But I get a lot of people coming here looking for Ahmed since he spoke to me about the Iraqi anthem, so thought I should post it. Feel free to read the rest of the magazine if you’re on a flight in the Middle East during February!

How does it feel being Iraq’s football ambassador?
“It’s scary sometimes. I’m only 21, but kids are always asking me questions like, ‘How can I play better?’ or ‘How can I be like you?’ But it’s proof I’m doing a good job. The message I have for them is always, ‘Believe in your dreams and train hard, because you never know when a professional club will be watching you play’.”

When did you start playing?
“My whole family loves football and I have three brothers who played in Sweden, so they pushed and encouraged me to follow them. Really, it’s what I always wanted to do. I’ve had football in my head and nothing else since I was seven.”

How did you get your nickname, the Iraqi Ronaldo?
“I think it’s because the Iraqi team has never had a real dribbler before, someone who likes to run at players. So when the fans saw me, it reminded them of him and his style of play. Of course it’s nice to hear, but professionally you always have to be yourself.”

What’s been your career highlight so far?
“The first time I played for Iraq was huge. When I put the shirt on, I knew that my friends, family and everyone in Iraq was watching. The biggest match of my life so far was a World Cup qualifying game against Japan. I’d never played in front of 60,000 people before. Every time Japan attacked, I wanted to put my hands over my ears – it was so loud – but it didn’t stop us playing well.”

Will Iraqi football become more known soon?
“Of course, we’re definitely improving – many other players in the national team could play in Europe. They’re fast, strong and good with both feet, and many new players will come through because so many kids now play. They just need better pitches.”

You’re still young, but have already played for the Iraqi national team 18 times. What’s your ambition?
“I want to be a top player. Not just in Sweden, but in a league like the one in Spain. I also want to get Iraq to the World Cup, hopefully this time or to Russia in 2018. Of course, I dream of scoring the winning goal in the final. I think I’m a bit too young to say I want to be captain, but someday I hope so.”

You’ve become nearly as famous for your hairstyle as your skills on the pitch. Would you ever consider being a model like the real Ronaldo?
“It’s funny, a lot of people are always pushing me to do that, and David Beckham, Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimović do it, so, hey, why not?”

Follow Yasin on Facebook or Twitter.

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