“I moved from Basra when I was 7 years old so I don’t remember a lot… but I remember my uncle was a fan of Al-Zawraa so it was also my favourite team”
THE FIRST IRAQI PROFESSIONAL IN MEXICO & BELIZE
Iraqi footballers have played all over the world in Qatar, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, England, Sweden, Denmark, France, Portugal, Italy, Romania, Korea, India, Bangladesh and Malaysia, but never in Mexico or the unlikely destination of Belize until one ambitious Basra born teenager decided he would take a chance.
Mohammed Yussuf was born in Basra, Iraq and left at the age of 7 to live in Mexico, where he began his playing career with local club, Josema, after a short time, he was spotted by Mexican 2nd division side Tecamachalco and scored 10 goals in only a few appearances for the club but still managed to suffer the heartache of relegation to the 3rd division.
His luck was about to change however, when he rejoined his old team Josema now known as Tormenta Hidalgo and later renamed Storm Hidalgo and took part in the club’s tour in neighbouring Belize. The Mexican side lost their first game 5-1 to top Belize club Dangriga Jaguars (Now known as Griga United), however in the second game against FC Acros (Now known as Acros Brown Bombers), the Mexican’s side’s Iraqi player shone scoring 2 goals in a 3-3 draw. Their opponents were so impressed with the striker that they quickly snapped him up for the new 2001-2002 season.
FROM BASRA TO BELIZE
Mohammed Abdullah Yussuf Rahim was born in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on October 9, 1984, a city known for its football history. It is the city where Iraq’s second oldest club, Nadi Al-Minaa Al-Basri (Basra Port Club) was formed, who had 4 players representing the first Iraqi national team against Turkey in 1951 and later became the first club from outside Baghdad to win the Iraqi League in 1978.
It is where Iraqi legends such as Hamza Qasim, Hussein Hashim, Sabih Abid Ali, Hadi Ahmed, Adil Khudhair, Jalil Hanoon, Rahim Karim all started their careers and was also where a young Mohammed Yussuf first learnt the love of the game and he has his uncle to thank for teaching him the beautiful game.
“I don’t remember exactly when I started to play football but it was around the age of 6. The biggest influence in my career was my uncle Ali, he introduced me to football and he taught me how to play this beautiful sport. I used to go to his house to watch football on TV in Iraq, my uncle was a fan of Al-Zawraa so it was also my favourite team”
Mohammed confesses that he does not know alot about Iraqi football but he has seen a few players that have impressed him.
“I don’t know a lot of Iraqi players but I have watched Ahmed Abdul-Jabar, he’s a good player”
Due to the 1991 Gulf War and increasingly depressing life in the former oil rich Gulf state, his family left Iraq, while Mohammed was only 7 years old and settled in Mexico, where his love for football grew even more.
“I got more interested in Mexico where football is played everywhere” says Mohammed as he begins to relive the days playing on the streets of Santos Delgollado.
“I played football in the streets with my friends only for a short time as we decided to make a team to play in the ‘Liga Infantil’ of Ciudad Hidalgo … when we were playing in the streets, we played until the sun went down, in those days we dreamed of being professionals. Most of the kids who played in the streets of Santos Degollado played for Storm Hidalgo like Gabriel Di Marzo, William Erazo, Antonio Durarte, Marco Irriate, Luis Garcia, Victor Saucedo, Tomas Fernandez and Elvis Dino Escutia. Our dream was to become professionals and we made it, but now each one of us have gone our different ways and selected our own futures”
“I also watched football on TV, my favourite player at that time was Carlos Hermosillo, when he played for my favourite team Club America, he played for Mexico in the World Cup in USA 94. I have seen three World Cups USA 94, France 98 and Korea-Japan 2002, this one I was lucky to have had the opportunity go to in Japan”
One game that is still in the back of Mohammed’s mind is the Copa America final.
“I remember the 1993 Copa America in Ecuador when Mexico went all the way to the final against Argentina, they lost 2-1 after an error from Benjamin Galindo.”
It was his performances for his school team Josema that brought much of his early success and it also brought the start of his playing career with Storm Hidalgo.
“I played in the Coca-Cola tournament for my school ‘Jose Maria Morelos’, we won the championship of the city against ‘Roberto Lopez Maya’ another school in the city and we went through to the state-level tournament, but we got eliminated. But this tournament opened the door for me to become a professional when my school team ‘Jose Maria Morelos’ and the other team ‘Roberto Lopez Maya’ were merged with a team called “Club Hidalgo”, after the grandfather of a player bought the franchise of a third division team, our team joined the third division and later we changed the name to Storm Hidalgo.”
Mohammed was one of the first players to have played for the newly formed Storm Hidalgo club. The club was originally founded on September 4th 1997 by a group of youngsters in Hidalgo City, Michoacan in Mexico. These youngsters were from the Jose Maria Morelos school and the club was first called Josema and entered the local league in the city of Hidalgo. In their first season they faced Roberto Lopez Maya (RLM), another school in a tournament including 16 teams, who were divided in 4 groups.
Josema were placed in the 3rd group and lost their first game 6-2 to Jomamo. But managed to beat Taximaroa 3-1, in their last game they humiliatingly lost 5-0 to their archrivals RLM, but still went through.
In the next round the club faced Melchor Ocampo and tied 2-2 and went into extra-time and then to penalties, where they won 2-0. In the semi-finals the played Aurerra and again to went into extra-time with a goal from Marco Irriate in the 7th minute of extra-time. In the final, they again met their archrivals RLM and beat them 5-2 and went onto represent Hidalgo city in the state finals under the name Josema Hidalgo.
As the Michoacan state had 111 provinces, the team had to play in-group stages. Hidalgo Josema faced Irimbo and won 8-0 and then came up against Ocampo winning 4-2. They then entered a group with Aporo, Angangeo and Tuxpan. They won their first game against Tuxpan 6-0 and then beat Angageo 2-1 but lost they last game 4-1 to Aporo but still managed to qualify for the second round. There they came up against Morelia, who comprehensively beat them 3-1.
The team continued to play in the Hidalgo city league under the name of “Tormenta Hidalgo”, translated into English, meaning Storm Hidalgo. Around that time, the team were beaten by their rivals RLM 5-2 and 7-2 putting the team into disarray but thanks to Gregorio Escutia, the grandfather of one of the Tormenta Hidalgo players Elvis Dino Escuta, the team was given a new lease of life. He bought the franchise of the third division team Club Hidalgo, which had been the city’s professional team for more then 5 years and merged Tormenta Hidalgo with Club Hidalgo.
As Tormenta Hidalgo became professional, RLM became less important and the players were integrated into the team and the club was renamed Storm Hidalgo and refounded the club that was known as Josema on 9th October 2001 and a few foreign players were signed from other teams and they also took the players from the extinct Hidalgo Club.
However a few months before he joined Josema, Mohammed could have been starting a career in France and had hoped to fulfil a dream of playing in Europe but it wasn’t to be.
“I was playing for a French team, the Nancy U-17s team before joining Storm Hidalgo, I went to France to study for a few months and I got the opportunity to join this team, I had a trial and I got into the team, but I only played there for 5 months and then I returned to Mexico. My original idea was to try to join the first team but I didn’t make it. In this team, I met Andrew Brown, a Mexican player, who is now playing in Belize!”
When asked about the day of his first team debut for Josema, he replies “I remember perfectly, July 19, 1999. It was a sunny day, a perfect day for football, the stadium was full, most of the people were cheering for us.”
“I came on as a substitute for Victor Saucedo. I was playing very well and I almost scored a goal but unfortunately my long distance shot missed. After the goalkeeper of my team, William Erazo, was sent-off when the game was almost over, nobody wanted to play as a goalkeeper so I played in goal!”
“I was lucky because my defence didn’t let our opponents near the penalty area. They tried long distance shots but their shoots weren’t strong enough so I had no problems. But one minute from the end an opposing attacker entered the area and he shot… I don’t know how to say it in English ‘con todas sus fuerzas’ (with all his force) but the ball went straight at my face so I saved the game. It finished 2-2.”
At the end of the game, Mohammed’s emotions ran high as he ended his first game as his team’s hero.
“I felt very happy and optimistic, I knew if I did something wrong it will be not be a problem because It was my first game but I really tried to have a good debut, but at the end of the game, I really didn’t know if I had a good debut, the coach said to me “Good game”, this didn’t make me feel like I had a good game but at the end of the day, I felt like a ‘hero’ because I had saved the shot in the final moments of the game.”
Mohammed continued to improve and eventually earned a move to the 2nd division with Tecamachalco after a trial.
“They were watching me playing for Josema and invited me to go for a trial to play for them and I made it into the team”
The striker spent the 1999-2000 season with the Tecamachalco club but his move that looked so promising turned into a nightmare.
“I played just a few games and scored 10 goals, but unfortunately I descended with my team again to 3rd Division.”
Mohammed admits that it was the lowest point of his career so far.
One of Mohammed’s proudest moments in his short but successful career was scoring a hat-trick against an All-Mexican XI of the third division that looked to have brought the Iraqi to the attention of a first division club.
“I was selected to play for a team of foreign players against a team of Mexican players, representing the third division, the score finished 5-5 and I scored 3 goals for the foreign team, then a few days later there was a rumour that a first division team was interested on my services, but this was only a rumour.”
His luck changed when rejoined his old club Storm Hidalgo and it during the club’s pre-season tour of Belize, where he was spotted by the clubs officials of Belize club, Acros Brown Bombers after scoring 2 goals against them.
“I made a great impression on them so they bought me from Storm Hidalgo.” says Mohammed.
Belize is a country with a population of only 256,000 and is situated in the north-east of Central America, bordered on the north and north-west by Mexico, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west by Guatemala. Until 1973, it was known as British Honduras and only became independent in 1981 and still is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
As a football nation, Belize is still improving and now has a semi-professional league that contains full-time professionals from various countries around the world, a number of players come from neighbouring countries Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and the United States while a few also arrive from nations such as England, Angola, Congo and even China.
The Football Federation of Belize (FFB) was founded in 1980 by Mr. Delhart Courtney under the name of Belize National Football Association (BNFA) and was affiliated to FIFA in 1986. Several changes have taken place since the FFB was first founded as it now looks to compete with other nations in the region.
The aims and objectives have been set and everyone connected to football in Belize knows it has a long way to achieve the level that they hope for but the future looks promising in Belize. The FFB have started the Coaching and Education Scheme to improve and also promote the game, while they also work to promote the game to youngster in schools all around the country.
Even Said Musa, the Prime Minister of Belize has tried his best to improve and promote football in the villages, towns and cities of the country.
As he arrived in Belize, Mohammed said “I am very proud to be a foreign player in Belize, in Mexico I didn’t feel like a foreigner because I lived there for 8 years before playing for Storm Hidalgo”
He made his debut for Acros Brown Bombers on November 4th 2001 against Griga United and was looking forward to getting on the pitch after missing the first game of the season.
“I was prepared to have a good game, I played in the second game of the season because in the first game I didn’t feel very well and I missed it. I came on as substitute for Robert Requena, I didn’t have a spectacular game but I played very well, however we lost 3-0!”
However things got better for the Acros star and pinpoints the game against Kulture Yabra in the Belize City derby as one of the best moments so far.
“I scored against Kulture Yabra on February 24, 2002 at MCC Grounds in Belize City, the home of Kulture Yabra, I scored the goal to make it 1-1, it was my only goal of the season.”
“Also when we played against Corozal FC at the Richalde Stadium, we won 5-1, I set-up the first and fourth goal”.
“I celebrated the goals like the players who scored them.” Mohammed adds.
And his worst moments in Belize.
“The worst moments are all the games we lost, but the worst is probably when I got sent-off in the game against Hardware Bandits in the last game of the regular season, we lost that game 4-2! I felt very sad and depressed after the game”
Having spent a season in Belize, Mohammed known to his fans and team-mates as “Ali Baba” or “Aladdin” or even “Osama” as a joke has enjoyed the experience and liked the country, but during his time in Belize, he has come across one small obstacle, which he managed to overcome.
“Belize is a beautiful and peaceful country with nice people, I had everything, however the only problem is that I don’t speak a lot of English so it was little difficult to communicate with people or my team-mates.”
However, his coach has helped him alot during the season to try to improve his English but on the pitch, he doesn’t feel he has the opportunity to improve as much as he would be doing playing in the Mexican first division but doesn’t see it as a problem.
“The coach helped me alot first in the language, he speaks a little Spanish and he also taught me alot of English. I improved as a player in Mexico when I played in the third division, in Belize first division is not the same level as Mexican first division but it is a competitive league.”
With his English improving, Mohammed is looking ahead and after seeing his club relegated to the Belize 2nd division, he turned down the chance to play for Sagitun FC and instead moved back to Mexico to play for FC Itzaes in the Mexican 2nd division, where he played up-front alongside Argentine Guiliano D’Ambrosio and Italian Angelo D’Scuttia formerly of Serie C side Legnano scoring 3 goals in 4 games earning him a move to 1st Division team Albinegros Orizaba, only one league away from the Primera Division.
He signed for the club but he was not signed in time for the transfer deadline and rejoined FC Itzaes. He finished the season with the club scoring 14 goals including 5 goals on the last day of the season. He later moved back to FC Griga United in 2003-2004.
Having played in both Mexico and Belize before the age of 20, does Mohammed have any ambitions of playing in Europe or anywhere else in the future?
“Yes” he says.
“Every football player dreams to play in Europe, I’m no exception but I am realistic and I will probably never play in Europe, but this is a obstacle to make me better, I always try to be better player and hopefully represent the Iraqi national team and also to play in the Mexican first division.”
The one thing that is for sure, is that the only way is forward for Mohammed Yussuf and in a few years we could be seeing him playing in the Mexican first division and maybe wearing the colours of the Iraqi national team.
Full Name: Mohammed Abdullah Yussuf Rahim
Born: October 9, 1984 in Basra, Iraq.
AS Nancy-Lorraine U-17s (FRA) March 1999- July 1999
Josema July 1999- August 1999
Club Tecamachalco 2000 August 1999-April 2000
Tormenta Hidalgo April 2000- October 2001
Storm Hidalgo October 2001- November 2001
Acros Brown Bombers (BLZ) November 2001- August 2002
FC Itzaes Yucatan August 2002- September 2002
Albinegros Orizaba September 2002
Atlético Boca del Río 2002-2003
Griga United 2003-2006
Benque Viejo United 2006-2007
Juventus (Belize) 2007-2008
FC Belize 2008-2009
1999 Plays for the Nancy Under-17s for five months, while studying in France. Joins Josema and makes first team debut as a substitute in a 2-2 draw. Signs for Mexican 2nd Division club Tecamachalco.
2000 Scores 10 goals during the 1999-2000 season as Tecamachalco are relegated. Rejoins Tormenta Hidalgo, which is later renamed Storm Hidalgo.
2001 Signs for Acros Brown Bombers of Belize after impressing during Storm Hidalgo’s pre-season tour in Belize.
2002 Scores his 2nd goal in Belize against Lazio FC of Orange Walk in a 3-2 defeat in the 1st leg of the relegation tournament. Acros lose 2nd leg 3-0 and are relegated.
Signs for Mexican 2nd division club FC Itzaes after turning down a move to Belize team Sagitun FC and then joins Albinegros Orizaba.
NOTE: This interview was conducted in 2002.