Throughout its history, Iraqi football has had of its share of exceptional players, men who more than earned the right to be called ‘Lions of Iraq’. However, one name stands head and shoulders above the rest, that of Hussain Saeed, the former striker who captained his country for many years and led them to their first appearance at a FIFA World Cup™ in 1986.
FIFA.Com looks back at a long and distinguished career that culminated in Saeed being named Iraq’s footballer of the century.
Born in Baghdad in 1958, Hussain Saeed was the son of a modest draper, who worked hard to ensure Hussain and his siblings completed their education. The youngster proved an outstanding student and would go on to attain a degree in agriculture. His academic talents were matched by his skill as a footballer, which he showed from the moment he could walk.
Like many top players, Saeed's first taste of success came in school football, where as a 17-year-old he had the honour of captaining the Iraqi team that won the Arab schools league in Egypt in 1975.
He made his professional debut with Al Talaba in the mid-‘70s and soon attracted the attention of fabled coach Amo Baba, then at the helm of the Iraqi national team. In need of some new fresh faces for the senior squad, Baba gave him his first call-up in 1976 after some sparkling performances by Saeed at that year’s Asian Youth Championship in Thailand, where he finished top scorer. When the youngster repeated the feat at the 1977 edition in Tehran, helping his side to the title at the expense of hosts and rivals Iran, his future was all but assured.
Star on the rise
Saeed’s stock rose even higher when he led Iraq to victory in the fifth edition of the Gulf Cup on home soil in 1979, scoring no fewer than ten goals in the process. With their star striker growing in stature and assurance, Iraq went from strength to strength, and it came as no surprise when they finally qualified for a 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™.
The forward’s career flourished during the ‘80s, a decade in which he competed in all three Olympic Football Tournaments. While representing and captaining his country, he scored 84 goals in 131 appearances, figures that would have made him an international record holder had all those fixtures been officially recognised.
Hanging up his boots
Saeed’s illustrious playing career came to an end in the early 1990s after a persistent injury had curtailed his playing time. Having sat out the 1988 Gulf Cup in Riyadh and then missed the 1990 FIFA World Cup when Iraq failed to qualify, he decided to make the 1990 Gulf Cup his swansong.
A new role in football
After calling time on his playing days at the age of 32, Saeed became one of those select players to make the transition to the administrative side of the game. He went on to hold several notable positions within Iraq’s Olympic Committee and Football Association, and became involved as an administrator on the international stage with the Asian Football Federation. Saeed reached the pinnacle of his new career when he was appointed head of the Iraqi Football Association, where he works tirelessly to develop the national side and the game in his country. The highlight of his tenure so far came when Iraq won the AFC Asian Cup in 2008, but the player-turned-administrator will not rest until he achieves the same success he did as a player and Iraq once again grace the finals of a FIFA World Cup.