Iraqi football has produced more than its share of talented strikers down the years. From Falah Hassan and Ali Kazim, via 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™ veterans Hussein Saeed and Ahmed Radhi, through to Razzaq Farhan, Emad Mohammed and Younis Mahmoud, these elegant and prolific goalscorers have wreaked havoc among opponents of the Lions of Mesopotamia.
The latest striker to come off this production line is Amjed Radhi, unquestionably one of the country’s brightest prospects. Radhi had a remarkable last season for club and country, with his side Arbil finishing as domestic champions as well as runners-up at the AFC Cup 2012. Radhi played no small part in the latter achievement after topping the tournament’s scoring charts with nine goals. He was also part of the Iraq side that took silver at the West Asian Football Federation Championship 2012.
Speaking to FIFA.com the young tyro seemed content with the course of his career to date, though clearly still harboured plenty of ambitions. Top of the list, unsurprisingly, is his dream of lining up with the national team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Radhi first played competitive football as an eight-year-old, but he had to wait until 2007 to start his professional career with Al Quwa Al Jawiya. Seven domestic league goals in his first season at the club made the young Baghdad native an automatic first team pick during the following year’s AFC Champions League.
But it was during the 2009/10 season that then 19-year-old striker really make his mark. His season tally of 33 goals was the most netted by one player for more than a decade, and he carried his form into 2011, when he was named as the Iraqi Premier League’s top striker. Inevitably he caught the eye of northern Iraqi outfit Arbil, who went on to win the championship in their new signing’s first season.
Naturally enough, the right-footed Radhi is pleased with his rapid progress, saying: “I’ve had a lot of success in a short time, which is down to dedication in training and applying myself to all matches, competitive and friendly alike. I’m so grateful, because any player would love to achieve what I’ve done.”
Radhi finished second in the league’s scoring charts last season, but his contribution to Arbil has not been limited to the domestic competition. He ended up top-scoring in last year’s AFC Cup, when his goals were instrumental in getting his side to the final, where they lost out to Al Kuwait.
Nor is he likely to forget his Asian campaign in a hurry: “Every player dreams of being the top scorer in an AFC Cup. We had what it took to get to the final but it wasn’t to be. That award was amazing but I didn’t manage it on my own: the whole team contributed. I just hope we can get to the final this year and, more importantly, go on to win it.”
The early signs are certainly encouraging. Arbil have won two games on the trot in this year’s edition, with Radhi proving last season was no once-off by finding the net on both outings.
The ultimate dream
In recent months, the 22-year old has been unable to replicate his club form with his country, having failed to score in five Brazil 2014 qualifying matches. For all that, but he seems unfazed by his barren spell.
“I don’t obsess about whether I score or not,” he explained. “What I want most of all is for the team to win every game, and there is no disagreement there with my team-mates. We share the same objective, which is to win and keep our football-loving fans happy.”
When it comes to Brazil 2014, Radhi is nothing if not optimistic: “I hope to be at the World Cup with my team and we’ve got a good chance of keeping our campaign alive. Our next match is against Oman and, if we win that one, we’ll have taken a big step towards our ultimate goal.”
The upcoming showdown with Oman in June will be followed by two stern tests in the shape of Japan and Australia, but the young Radhi is firm believer that nothing is impossible in football: “We’ll go all out for the win and, if luck is on our side, we’ll get points we need to qualify. I really want us to keep winning so we can achieve our dream of going to Brazil.”
It is a dream shared by Iraq’s passionate supporters, who are already beginning to make comparisons with his namesake, legendary striker Ahmed Radhi. The latter famously scored Iraq’s only goal at the finals of Mexico 1986 and Amjed hopes to emulate his feat.
When asked about the comparisons with a man who was voted Asian Player of the Year in 1988, Radhi is suitably modest: “Personally, I’m proud to be mentioned alongside him. Ahmed Radhi is one of the biggest names in Iraqi football and one of the best Asian players of all time. One day I hope to get near to what Ahmed achieved, either in terms of my ability or the trophies I win.”
And while Radhi’s dream of following in the footsteps of his hero and gracing the next FIFA World Cup is still in the balance, there is no disputing he is one of his country’s finest attacking prospects and has what it takes to go all the way.