Sherko Karim: The next star of Iraqi football


Sherko Karim has been the Under 17s standout player, with his close control, dribbling skills and endless bags of trickery, he has been a handful for opposition defenders and even though Iraq crashed out in the group stage, he stamped his authority on the tournament in the Emirates with his displays in Iraq’s three games.

He is already well known in Iraq after his escapades with the Nashaeen, and now with the Shabab, in the past two years and stardom beckons for this exciting new striker from Kirkuk, with Europe his desired destination.

After playing at the AFC Youth Championship and becoming one of the first Iraqi Under 17 players to play and score at the FIFA Under 17s World Cup, Sherko’s next goal lay abroad.

“I want to play in Europe,” he told FIFA.com. “I can be an ambassador of football for Iraq, but mainly I want to challenge myself at the highest levels of my sport.”

SHERKO OF AJAX

Earlier this month after Sherko scored two goals in a AFC Youth Championship qualifier against Bangladesh in Arbil, which Iraq won 6-0, the opponent’s Dutch coach Rene Koster was full of praise for the Iraq Under 19s, and told the gathering media that the Iraqi team “deserved the victory, deserving for being cognate as a group, playing at home, in front of their fans, and playing in a similar way to Barcelona”. High praise indeed, but one player had caught the eye of the Dutch coach, and he was quickly on the phone to one club back in the Netherlands to inform them about the No.7 of Iraq.

On October 13, after the last day of the qualifying stages, coach Muwafaq Hussein confirmed to the Iraqi media that Sherko had received a formal offer of a two week trial from Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam through Bangladesh’s coach Koster who also worked as a coach at the Ajax Football Academy. The Iraqi coach added that Sherko’s club would make a decision on holding talks to agree on the details of the transfer.

Nothing has yet been announced, but Sherko’s stock has already risen after his outings at the World U-17 Cup in the UAE, and even if his move to Ajax falls through, there will be a dozen more clubs looking to sign the young striker.

“People know Iraq for certain negative reasons around the world. But I’m honoured to wear the shirt of my country, to show the world that there are other things in Iraq. My main goal is to entertain the Iraqi people and make them as happy as I can.”

THE NEW BLACK GOLD OF KIRKUK

Iraq has not had such a talent come out of Kirkuk since the heydays of gentle giant of the Iraqi national side Adil Abdullah of the old army team Al-Farqa Al-Thaniya (Second Division) in the 50s and 60s, but here the similarities end, as while the late Adil was a English style forward, good in the air and lethal in the six yard box. Sherko is all together a different proposition for modern day defenders, when on the ball, he beats a defender, not once but sometimes twice or three times, bamboozling defenders with his dribbling, moving left and then right, and before then accelerating past them or releasing the ball to a team-mate.

Sherko Karim Latif Al-Jabari was born on June 25, 1996 in the northern city of Kirkuk, and made his first steps on the playing fields of local Al-Thawra Sports Club in his home city. He was discovered by Iraqi U-17 coach Muwafaq Hussein on one of his scouting trips searching for new talent around the country, and after watching him, he quickly called him up to play for his side, and shortly after moved to Baghdad to play for Al-Shurta.

It was after the U-17s qualified for the 2012 AFC Under 17 Championship that Iraqi clubs began clamouring for his signature, with Arbil one of the favourites to sign the striker, but instead he moved south to the Iraqi capital to start his career in the top division, and after an initial offer from Al-Karkh, he moved to Al-Shurta.

On December 30, 2011 at only 15, he signed a three year contract with Iraqi Premier League club Al-Shurta then managed by coach Basim Qasim, and made his senior debut for the Police club a year later, before going onto help the Iraqi U-17 to qualify for the FIFA Under 17 World Cup for the first time.

He came to prominence at an Arab youth tournament in Tunisia last year, where he picked up awards for the best player and top scorer at the 2012 Arab Youth Championship on the back of his seven goals in Tunis, and after the competition the striker was offered a professional contract by three of Tunisia’s premier clubs Espérance, Club Africain and Club Sportif Sfaxien.

Sherko has also had interest from Saudi club Al-Nassr and was one of four players from the Under 17s who Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala looked out during the AFC U-17 qualifying rounds in Duhok.

It was symbolic that the captaincy was handed to the No.7, because this player could be Iraq’s next superstar and national captain. He has been likened to his idol Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid, but for Iraqi fans, he will look very much like a young Emad Mohammed.

At the age of 19, Emad was rumoured to have been interesting AC Milan and a host of other top European clubs in 2001, but he never managed to play on the European continent, and after an injury in 2002, the striker lost a yard of pace and was never really the same player.

The problem for Emad was that he was pushed into the spotlight at such a young age and while his coach Adnan Hamad tried his best to protect him, and not put too much pressure on his young developing body, by resting him on occasions, his successor Croatian Rudolf Belin, however named him in the Iraqi side from the start, thrusting him onto the international scene, and despite scoring goals in Iraq’s 2002 World Cup run, Emad’s adolescent body inevitably couldn’t take the extremes of Asian football, and while on one of his foreign forays in Qatar, Emad was injured, and on his return from surgery, went from a striker that scored a goal a game, to one that couldn’t muster a goal in four matches. Sherko’s coaches will not want to make the same mistake with this No.7.

Though Sherko shapes his own game and his hairstyle on CR7, with his step-overs, and his impulsive and energetic runs at the opposition.

“He’s the number-one player for me, everything I do I base it on the way Cristiano Ronaldo plays. I wear the No.7 shirt as a homage to him. I love to watch his play and to copy his moves and feints. When he’s playing, I’m watching, and I’m paying close attention.”

In each of Iraq’s games at the Under 17 World Cup, the forward’s undeniable talent have shone through, and at only 17, he will only get better.

One things for sure is that we have not heard the last of Sherko Karim.

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