The place you would normally go looking for national team players is top-flight club football, although internationals drawn from second-tier clubs are by no means a complete rarity. However, it's highly unusual to find a current international playing his club football in the fifth tier – but that is the fascinating truth in the case of Mustafa Hadid.
Afghanistan striker Hadid is currently on the books with Altona 93 in the Hamburg suburbs, plying his trade in the Oberliga, the fifth tier of the German game. Back in 1996, he was just eight when he and his family fled the civil war in his home country and settled in the northern metropolis. “And I've not been back to Afghanistan since," he admitted in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
“But my parents have told me a great deal about Afghanistan. There’s a huge passion for football there, it's the nation's favourite sport. Everyone loves football. A lot of kids play out on the street, because it's a simple game and there are few costs involved. That's the way it is in the developing world. It's not hard to find a ball, and that's all you need to get going. Otherwise, I have no contact with the country, apart from my fellow team-mates of course."
Striker with a story
The 23-year-old remains a pure amateur in Germany, but already has more than 15 international caps to his name. He retains powerful memories of his first appearance in national colours. “It was in 2008 at the South Asian championship. We played Sri Lanka in Colombo, and I scored my first goal in a 2-2 draw."
He has chalked up a further four goals since then, despite the fact that his duties for his country are currently more about preventing goals than scoring them. “I've been helping out at right-back recently due to an injury crisis," he revealed with a smile. The transition has not proved a problem, as he has already filled the position for his club on numerous occasions.
Hadid’s story is an unusual one, not least for his fifth division opponents, who would normally never come up against a current international. “It's done the rounds in Hamburg that I play for Afghanistan, but they don't give me a harder time of it physically than anyone else," he reported. In fact, he is not the only Afghan international playing in the north of Germany, where Ata Yamrali and Obaidullah Karimi are also active on the amateur scene, although the pair last represented their country some years ago.
When a draw feels like a win
Hadid has more or less given up on breaking into the pro ranks, although there remains a shimmer of hope. “Every player dreams of becoming a professional. But I'm 23 and basically, it's already too late. However, you never give up entirely." Mustafa currently has a day job in a kindergarten while waiting for a place to study environmental technology.
The football-playing student dreams of appearing on a major sporting stage at least once in the future. A tantalising glimpse of what that might be like came a few months ago when he represented Afghanistan in qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. The first leg of a tie against Palestine took place in Tajikistan and ended in a 2–0 reverse, but the Afghans at least achieved a 1–1 draw in the return. “Obviously we were disappointed to be knocked out, but at the end of the day, we can be very satisfied with a draw away to Palestine," he summarised.
The focus is now on the Asian championship. “Our real target is to make headway against Asian teams, and that's what we're working towards." The next AFC continental championship takes place in Australia in 2015, meaning there is still time to work on the fundamentals. However, much-needed training camps and get-to-know-you sessions are beyond the cash-strapped association’s reach. “We're called up to play, we arrive three or four days beforehand and only get to train together two or three times, which makes it very difficult," Hadid remarked.
Beacon of hope for Afghanistan
That sentiment is by no means intended as criticism, the player emphasised to FIFA.com. “The players based in Afghanistan are in a completely different situation. We have good lives in Germany, but they face very different problems. It's always wonderful when the national team gets together."
The likeable goal-getter will continue to pack his case from time to time, leaving the world of amateur football in Hamburg behind him before pulling on a national shirt with pride. It is a symbol of defiance and hope, not only for the player and his team-mates, but also for an entire nation riven by strife and war.