Comparing Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo and the 2004 Athens Olympic side

Real Madrid and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo is at the top of his game and the 28-year-old still has many years in him. Yesterday he picked up his second Ballone d’Or title but what of the victorious Iraqi team at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where are they now?

Adnan Hamad’s side stunned Ronaldo’s Portugal when they defeated them 4-2 in Patras almost ten years ago. Ronaldo was only 19, two years younger than Younis, and only a year younger than Nashat (1 year, 4 months and 25 days to be exact) and Nour Sabri.

The same group of players won the Asian Cup in 2007, but their careers and form dipped from there on.

Out of the 18 players in Iraq’s 2004 Olympic squad, only one is a current international, the captain Younis Mahmoud, however he only returned from international retirement a few months ago and compare that with Portugal, who have seven players that have played international football in the past two years.

From the Iraqi side, three players have retired, though they were the three overaged players used by Adnan Hamad, while the youngest Saad Attiya, 17 in 2004, is struggling to get on the bench at Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya.

While members of Portugal’s 2004 players are still going strong and performing at the top level in Europe, Iraq’s 2004 are winding down their careers, some are in the lower divisions such as Ahmed Manajid and Haidar Abdul-Razzaq and others are only months away from retiring from the game completely.

All the talk of the new golden generation of Hakim Shaker that Iraq has produced has made me think, have ‘these golden generations’ had an unfair advantage?

The Iraqi U-22 side comfortably beat Uzbekistan 2-1, with 95% of the side already playing for the national set-up. No country promotes majority of their youth side (U-20 level) to the senior team – however Iraq has done for years, using the youth team as a kind of nursery side (regardless of age). For a player or a whole group of players at 19 or 20 to adapt to senior football so quickly is near impossible – even Marwan Hussein, the new striker has been playing in the Al-Zawraa first team since the 2008-2009 season, non of the current Iraqi youth or U-22 players are newcomers to senior football, with many in their fifth season in the Iraqi top flight.

How can a team of players make the jump from Under 20 level to Under 23, and also play at senior level as well at the same time? The answer is that they can’t. The Under 20 side is composed of players that are in the age range of 23-25.

And why has no one asked the question why Mohanad Karrar (his name according to the AFC) changed his name from Mohanad Abdul-Rahman Kazar to Mohanad Abdul-Rahim Karrar?

The 2004 was a magnificent side, and the likes of Nashat, Emad, Younis and Hawar will go down in Iraqi football history as some of Iraq’s best players, but time finally caught up with them. A player coming to the age of 27 should be at his peak, but the form of the 2004 players dipped before they even reached 26.

It’s unfair to compare a world class footballer like Ronaldo to the 2004 side, however while one is at his peak of his game, and others are disappearing from the spotlight when they should’ve reached the best years of their lives, doesn’t it make you stop and think about the real ages of these golden generations, that beat everyone at age group level, and after a few years in senior football disappear from sight.

There is an obvious reason why Iraq is succeeding in age group competitions and failing to achieve the same results at senior level. No one speaks of it.

This practice of Tazweer in Iraqi youth football has to be stopped, because if nothing is done, we’ll never reach the level of Ronaldo, Messi, La Liga, Serie A or the English Premier League.


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