"Not that long ago I wouldn’t miss a single English league game on television. I used to watch Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard with childlike wonder – I can hardly believe I might be playing against them soon.”
FIFA.com had the pleasure of meeting the visibly ecstatic Foued Kadir last week, with the French-born Algerian midfielder still floating on air after making the cut in Rabah Saadane’s 25-man pre-2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ roster. It has been a thrilling few months for the Valenciennes player, and he has not yet come down from his cloud.
“I spent a fair amount of time on the bench at the start of the season and then everything took off really quickly,” said Kadir, who now hopes for the chance to continue the fine form he displayed at the end of the Ligue 1 season on South African soil. “I’ve had a lot more playing time over the last few months and I’ve tried to prove in every match that I can perform at the highest level.”
Those efforts clearly did not go unnoticed and, having been called up for Algeria’s training camp in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana between 13 and 27 May, the lively, technically gifted midfield schemer knows what he needs to do. “I’m going to work hard and listen a huge amount,” he said. “If by some chance I get included in the 23, I’ll continue to keep a low profile and take on board all the advice I can. Even if I don’t get to play, it’s not a problem. I’m here to learn most of all.”
Kadir’s humility serves as a reminder that he was the surprise choice in the Fennecs' (Desert Foxes) squad. First given his grounding in the game at hometown club Martigues before joining Troyes, the son of Algerian immigrants failed to make his mark at both clubs.
Despite those disappointments, the youngster felt himself close in on his dream of representing the country of his parents while at Troyes. Both Karim Ziani and Rafik Saifi played for the Aube outfit at the time, and though they were first-team regulars while Kadir toiled away in the fourth tier with the reserves, he listened to their advice and gained strength from their encouragement. The club itself was less supportive, however, and at the age of 20 he had to put his career on hold, moving back to his native region to join a local amateur team.
While Kadir was adjusting to that fresh setback, Cannes were stuck in a downward spiral of their own, eventually losing their professional status in 2004. That prompted them to send out a call for players willing to put in the graft required to save the club, and Kadir jumped at the chance, going on to become a key figure for the Mediterranean outfit over the next three seasons. Then, in 2007, he was snapped up by Ligue 2 side Amiens and finally signed professional terms at the age of 24.
The difficult times were not yet banished to the past, though, and two years later the ambitious club were surprisingly relegated to the third division. Fortunately, Valenciennes coach Philippe Montanier had noticed Kadir's ability while at the Boulogne helm and recruited him for his new team.
"He was very discreet when he first got here,” recalled Montanier. “He showed himself to be patient and he worked hard. His good technique and mental strength helped him quickly settle into the squad, and that’s why he was able to enjoy such a magnificent second half to the season, with performances that were impressive both in physical and technical terms.” Indeed, after disputing just 92 minutes during his first six months at the Stade Nungesser, he went on to start 13 of the team’s 20 matches in 2010.
"My career trajectory isn’t exactly normal,” added the player himself, who is able to operate in any attacking midfield role. “Nothing’s ever been easy for me and I think that’s what makes me strong today. I haven’t fixed myself any limits. Everything’s gone so quickly recently that I don’t see why it should stop now.”
His progress certainly commands respect, and it was he who helped kick-start Bordeaux’s decline when he scored his maiden Ligue 1 goal in a 2-0 home victory over the then French champions in March. As he celebrated that strike, he kissed the sweatband decorated in Algeria’s colours that he has been wearing since his time at Amiens. “I was born in the south of France, but my parents are Algerian and I’ve always had the Algerian national team in the corner of my mind,” he explained in his distinctive Provencal accent.
“A few weeks ago, the president of the [Algerian] football association gave me a quick call to say the coach was interested in me. That gave me even more motivation. Then the coach came to see me in Monaco [on 10 April] to tell me to continue doing what I was doing. That’s when I really began to believe.”
So far his belief has paid off, and he now finds himself within touching distance of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. With England, the United States and Slovenia pitted alongside Algeria in Group C, even more belief will be required when the tournament gets underway, but the prospect of upsetting expectations is exactly what has roused the passions of the country’s fans.
“It will be the first World Cup for everyone in this squad and the first for the country in 24 years,” said the 26-year-old. “We can feel an extraordinary popular fervour around us. I think it can take us far.” Far or not, Kadir would surely settle for taking the field against Lampard, Rooney and Gerrard in Cape Town on 18 June.