In the footsteps of Almustafa Mahmoud

@Roberto Arribas

Almustafa Mahmoud Khalid, Communication student at IE University

A ball shoots down from the Glaswegian sky at tremendous speed.  Zinedine Zidane, standing right next to the line of the penalty box, impossibly stretched out his left leg and hit the ball with such elegance, force, and precision that he sent the ball flying into one corner of the goal, where Leverkusen couldn’t do a thing about it.  Zizou’s goal was an unforgettable moment for millions of people around the world, who watched one of the most beautiful shots in history.

Far away from Glasgow, a nine-year-old Iraqi boy named Almustafa Mahmoud Khalid watched the match from his home in Baghdad.  He felt immense joy: Zidane, his soccer hero, an icon for many Arab fans, building his legacy. 15 years later, that memory is still very much alive for Almustafa, who is about to graduate with a Bachelor in Communication from IE University.

In 2002, the year Real Madrid won their 9th European Cup, Almustafa’s dreams were hovering over the city of Baghdad, then threatened by a new war.  Almustafa’s wish back then was to be a professional soccer player and play for the “galácticos” team, or any other Spanish team.  The year after Zidane’s feat, Iraq was invaded by a group of countries led by the US, marking the start of the war.  “That ended all my plans of training to be a soccer player in my country,” says the young IE University student.

Photo by: Roberto Arribas

Fortunately, his family had left the Iraqi capital a year before the start of the military confrontation. His father, a diplomat, moved his family to another country for work.  First was Cairo, Egypt, where they stayed for a year, then they moved to Kuala Lumpur, the largest city of Malaysia.

The Malaysian experience

In that time, Malaysian law only allowed soccer clubs to have a maximum of three foreigners on their teams, so it was difficult for Almustafa to get signed.  When it seemed like his dream of being a soccer player was going up in smoke, the young Iraqi joined Kuala Lumpur Youth Soccer, the best Malaysian club for under 18-year-old’s, coached by Pablo Luis Pozzutto, an Argentinian who in his professional years played with great soccer players like Diego Armando Maradona and Sergio Goycochea.   “That Argentinian made us run a lot, I learned a lot about what soccer is, and a lot of tactics too,” says Almustafa, with a small smile at the memory of those years of learning and the tough discipline on the field.

In 2010, with just 17 years of age, the Iraqi experienced yet another twist in life: he left Malaysia to go to Hong Kong, not just to play soccer, but above all to study at one of the best undergraduate schools in China, the United World College.   “On my team in Hong Kong the level was good, but it wasn’t what I had planned, I couldn’t progress; in China it’s extremely complicated to become a professional player,” he notes.

After two years in China, Almustafa returned to Malaysia to create his own soccer school (the Renaissance Academy of Football) which trained kids under the age of 13, and won a few local championships.

Despite the satisfaction of training and coaching children, he still had a dream of playing soccer in Spain.  He then remembered how, at his school in Hong Kong, they had talked about a university in Spain where besides being able to play on a soccer team, they placed an emphasis on entrepreneurship. He left Kuala Lumpur and moved to Segovia to study Communication at IE University.

In Segovia, Almustafa played on various university teams that already existed, and created some new ones, all with the idea of continuing to improve as a soccer player and a trainer.  On the IE University Athletics team, an official team in the second division of the Castilla y León league, Almustafa started out playing center defense until suffering an injury to his femoral biceps in the first week of competition, taking him out of the rest of the season.  At that point he moved from being a player to an assistant coach.  Finally, the university team reached the championship.

It’s here that I’ve fulfilled my dream of playing on an official team in Spain, and I’ve also been able to study at one of the best universities in Europe,” says Almustafa, who adds that, “I really like Segovia, it’s a small but charming city. The change has certainly been huge, I’ve gone from living in Baghdad, Cairo, Hong Kong, and Kuala Lumpur to living in Segovia, a small but very cozy city.”  “I hope that many children in my country have the opportunity to grow up in a place like this. I’m going to take everything I’ve learned in Spain and try to help other children achieve their dreams,” he says.

At 24 years old, about to graduate in just a few days, Almustafa has abandoned the idea of becoming a professional player “because you have to train every day, which is already quite difficult for me.

He has stitches on his right side just like Dani Alves, the ex-Barcelona player now at Juventus. Although Almustafa admits that, if you’re going to compare him to someone, he prefers Dani Carvajal, “because he’s a better player and he’s at Real Madrid.”

Almustafa has other interesting projects besides soccer.  Along with other young people he has created his own clothing line, “BLVCKAPPAREL,” which is sold on their website: www.blvckapparel.es. It includes high-quality garments made by hand and sold around the world.  Perhaps the dream of becoming a soccer player for a big club in Spain has vanished, but the dream of becoming a great entrepreneur is just beginning.  Almustafa knows it and is fighting to get there, as he’s always done in life.