From the fifth division to the national team
El Daghais waiting for his turn
Call-up for Libya's national team came via social media
Abduelrihim El Daghais’ story is one of a man who decided to take his fate into his own hands.
The 32-year-old has a truly remarkable past. At the age of 16 he was called up to Libya’s national youth set-up and made 15 appearances, including captaining both the U-17 and U-21 sides. However, in 2011 he was forced to end his career as a goalkeeper and flee to Germany after being hit by a bullet during his country's civil war.
“The doctors didn’t have much hope that I’d be able to play again,” El Daghais told FIFA.com. “I’d closed the door on football, but then a doctor gave me hope again.”
The amiable Libyan gradually made a life for himself in the land of the four-time FIFA World Cup™ champions. In 2013 he opened a restaurant in Bonn and at the start of this year became a father to a baby girl. “Obviously it’s nice being at home but I do miss football,” he said.
In 2016 he cautiously began kicking a ball and playing between the posts again in Germany’s lower leagues – and with great success. Just a year later he arrived at fifth-tier side Blau-Weiss Friesdorf and became the team’s number one goalkeeper.
Through all that time, El Daghais never gave up on his dream of playing for the national team. “My wife and I kept posting videos of my games and saves online and my friends pushed me to send them directly to the national side,” he said. “I initially thought it was a strange idea, but then I did it.”
It worked. He got a response from the sporting director, with whom he had played together as a youngster, asking for more videos. Then came a phone call and an invitation to join the team for the international fixtures in March. “I was totally surprised and over the moon, it was a dream,” he said. “Playing for your country is as good as it gets for any footballer.”
Unfortunately, his story has not had a happy end as fate dealt El Daghais another blow when the coronavirus outbreak prevented him from travelling to the national team in Libya. “They wanted to have a ten-day training camp in Tunisia and play some friendlies, and there were also two CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2021 qualifiers against Equatorial Guinea on the agenda,” he said.
“I was really looking forward to it. We’ve got some good players who are gaining experience abroad. That’s much better than it was even just four or five years ago, and it’s a wonderful development for our country because there hasn’t been a national league in Libya for years now. That obviously makes it difficult to train and bring through young players. When all of this is over, I hope I get another chance to play for my country.”
His club coaches are in no doubt that he more than deserves his opportunity. “He’s always had enough quality,” Thomas Huhn told FIFA.com. “We’re happy for him. His main strength is coming off his line. He’s always trained really well.”
Johannes Weitensteiner struck a similar chord on the club’s website: “Abdi’s just a great guy and he’s always there to listen to his team-mates.”
For now, however, El Daghais has little option but to wait - like most of the football community. “Our coaches have sent us a training plan, but there’s not much we can do apart from running.”
Regardless of how long the current football hiatus lasts, one thing is certain: El Daghais is ready to take on any challenge life may have in store for him.