- Walid Mohammad is UAE's captain
- He's on a quest to lead them to a first-ever quarter-final appearance
- FIFA.com learns about his journey & why he plays the game
When Walid Mohammad walks up to the Los Pynandi Beach Soccer World Cup Stadium pitch on 22 November to lead the United Arab Emirates out against Belarus he’ll be thinking about his late father, Mohammad.
Mohammad died of cancer two years ago, and he was his son’s biggest supporter. Walid spent an entire year out of the game to be by his ailing father’s side, watching from afar as his team competed in international competitions. His father urged him to “go back and play, go back and play!"
When you speak with Walid it is instantly obvious why he is UAE’s captain - he talks about every aspect of his life with purpose and conviction.
“I was born to play beach soccer,” Mohammad tells FIFA.com. “I was born in the sand in Dubai. We were close to the beach where I grew up. I had lots of opportunities to play 11-a-side but there was something pulling me - I always wanted to play barefoot. That was the only thing I wanted to do. I felt like, yeah, this is Walid.
“[If I had decided to play for an 11-a-side club] Of course maybe my income would be better and I would live a luxurious life, but for me as Walid, this is me; I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to represent my country at a World Cup.”
‘Be better tomorrow’
For three years he would leave home at 6:00am and finish his day at midnight as he juggled completing his Bachelor’s degree in human resource management (he finished with a 97 per cent grade, in case you were wondering) while he continued working and training with the beach soccer team. He rarely saw his family and friends. At the end of each night he told himself, ‘Be better tomorrow'.
“If anyone wants to do something with their life, they must take responsibility and to take everything seriously. Responsibility can’t come from anyone else. If you give 100 per cent, I believe you will get 100 per cent back."
When he was in the midst of this crazy schedule, he had the full support of his work colleagues. A bus full of more than 40 of his fellow employees came to watch him play at the Intercontinental Cup.
Before every match Walid listens to chapters from the Holy Quran, which he says put him into a peaceful mindset. His pre (and post)-game meal is açaí-heavy - “I’m addicted!"
Group C, which pits UAE up against debutants Belarus, perennial powerhouse Russia and African champions Senegal, will potentially be the most unpredictable of all the groups at Paraguay 2019.
“It’s going to go down to the last game,” Mohammad said. “I give a 25 per cent chance for all the teams in the group to get through.”
UAE have never advanced past the group stage at the Beach Soccer World Cup. But for Walid, there is reason for optimism that they can finally seal a quarter-final spot. This new generation of players have stuck together and nearly got through their group two years ago in the Bahamas.
“It’s a big responsibility [being captain],” he said. “If we win, I will be the last one to take credit. It’s all about my team. If we lose, I will be the first one to take the criticism. I’m ready to die first. I’m ready to sacrifice.”
No matter what happens in Paraguay, you can bet Walid’s late father Mohammad will be watching over his son, with him in spirit, proud of the man he has become; doing what he loves, doing what he was born to do.
“Whenever I play, I always remember that he is sitting there.”