It was a call from Dick Advocaat that set Zidane Iqbal on the path to representing Iraq in back-to-back World Cup qualifiers in the past week. Last year, Dutchman Advocaat, then the Iraq national team’s manager, rang Iqbal’s father Aamar with a personal request for the Manchester United player to prepare for international action.
“I know all about your son and I’d like to get him involved,” said Advocaat. “I respect your position with other countries and we will not cap him unless you agree, but we want to get him around training with the senior team.”
At that stage, Iqbal could have represented England, where he was born, Pakistan, through his father, or Iraq, through his mother, but the direct approach from a manager of Advocaat’s experience helped seal his choice. Former PSV Eindhoven, Rangers. Netherlands and Russia coach Advocaat would go on to leave the job in November but Iqbal had made up his mind, and he now possesses two full caps after coming off the bench in World Cup qualifiers against Iran last Thursday and Lebanon on Tuesday.
It has been quite a couple of months for the 18-year-old.
On December 8, he became the first British-born South Asian to play for United when he replaced Jesse Lingard for the final few minutes against Young Boys in the Champions League group finale.
It was a significant moment not only for Iqbal but for his football community.
He has been a key member of the Professional Footballers’ Association’s Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS) and when he jogged onto the Old Trafford pitch in the 90th minute, it sparked a flurry of pings in the relevant WhatsApp group. Riz Rehman, the PFA’s player inclusion executive says: “When he made his debut I was getting loads of messages from parents and kids of a similar age saying how nice it was to see.”
Iqbal, who has been in United’s academy since the age of nine, soaked up the occasion and afterwards with fellow 18-year-old Charlie Savage, another debutant that night, waited 45 minutes to express their gratitude personally to Ralf Rangnick. The pair hovered outside Rangnick’s office as the United manager conducted post-match media duties.
Iqbal got his own taste of public speaking when conducting an interview for MUTV before he flew out to link up with the Iraq squad. He is the subject of more media requests than any other player in United’s youth system and the club decided to deal with the interest from dozens of Pakistani and Iraqi broadcasters by conducting an in-house sit-down and syndicating it.
Proud to have made my international debut despite the result❤️ pic.twitter.com/nKgvbhJufJ
— zidane iqbal (@z10ane) January 27, 2022
Iqbal, who was born in Whalley Range, south of Manchester city centre, came across as thoughtful when he elaborated on his heritage.
“I’m proud of being English, Pakistani and Iraqi,” he said in a strong Mancunian accent. “I feel this is the right step in my career. It’ll be such an honour to represent Iraq but it definitely doesn’t take away the fact that I’m a Mancunian, and a Pakistani as well.
“The support has been great. I’ve had so many messages that I can’t read through them all! But the ones I have read have been positive and hopefully I can keep it up, and just excel from here.”
His emergence as a senior international got off to a stormy start after his journey out was delayed by snow in Istanbul, where his flight was due to connect on Monday, January 24. Iraq had ideally wanted him to leave England sooner but United under-23s needed him for a Premier League 2 game against Brighton & Hove Albion the previous Friday. In the end, Iqbal was re-routed via Dubai, with the Iraqi FA arranging business-class seats.
Such long-haul journeys will become the norm but Iqbal has already shown he can perform soon after getting off a plane. In October, less than 24 hours after arriving back from captaining Iraq Under-23s at a tournament in Saudi Arabia, he started for United’s youthful EFL Trophy side at Sunderland and scored a brilliant goal, cutting onto his right and firing a finish into the top corner.
It was a sign of Iqbal’s growing assurance on the pitch.
A skilled midfielder who keeps possession ticking, there were times as he came through United’s academy when it was unclear where his future lay. His physicality, still developing, meant United waited to make decisions on his scholarship and professional contracts.
He signed a three-year deal in April and has raised his game this season. A week after that Sunderland game, he helped turn the tide against Atalanta in the UEFA Youth League by driving with the ball and striking a 22nd-minute equaliser from distance. United went on to win that match 4-2.
Zidane Iqbal showing why he's one to watch at Man Utd 🙌(Video) Saaleh Baseer - An Ivy League-Madrassa Fusion
The midfielder put in a bright performance as Man Utd came back from 1-0 down to beat Atalanta 4-2 in the UEFA Youth League… pic.twitter.com/upIhis9CZ9
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) October 20, 2021
“Zee did well again,” said manager Neil Wood afterwards. “His goal to get us back into it was out of nothing; great strike. He is slowly building confidence, getting used to the level. He is a nice, technical player, but there are different aspects to improve as well.”
It is anticipated a loan will be agreed for Iqbal next season, possibly in the January, depending on his progress. He has already had interest from the Middle East and turned down one lucrative offer to focus on developing close to home.
As a child, Iqbal’s first name would attract attention from parents and scouts curious to see if he had similar talents. But he is not named after Zinedine Zidane, but because the Arabic meaning of Zidane is “increase” or “growth” — fitting terms by which to approach a career in football.
While attending St Margaret’s Church of England Primary School in Whalley Range, Iqbal was spotted by Manchester United playing for Sale United — where his dad Aamar still coaches. His younger brother, Daoud, plays grassroots football too.
Aamar grew up in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-biggest city, and is now a professional in retail. Iqbal’s mother Ayat, a pharmacist, is from Samawah in southern Iraq. Both moved to Manchester decades ago.
Iqbal comes off the bench to make his senior Manchester United debut in December (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)
Iqbal’s upbringing has helped him be a good guide for Asian players following in his footsteps on the AIMS programme. He has offered advice on how to balance faith — he is a practising Muslim, like one of his idols Mesut Ozil — with football.
“He’s taken naturally to it,” says the PFA’s Riz Rehman, the brother of former Fulham and Pakistan defender Zesh. “At our event in June, Zidane was the first one there and even the basic drills, he set the standard. He went around speaking to all the kids, the parents, taking pictures, staying right to the end. The family have kept his feet firmly on the ground. That is humbling to see.”
Several senior professionals of South Asian heritage, such as Danny Batth, now of Sunderland, Middlesbrough’s Wales international Neil Taylor and Port Vale’s Mal Benning, were also in attendance, and Iqbal was able to pick their brains, too. He offers his time to those younger than him.
“He follows the boys on Instagram, he comments on their birthdays, he sets up (games of) FIFA with them,” says Rehman. “I do tell everyone to respect boundaries.”
Rehman hopes seeing prominent players such as Iqbal can encourage more children from South Asian backgrounds to take up football.
He says: “There are 15,000 registered players in the academy system in the game. I’ve got 80 in my group. It’s a start, but nowhere near where it should be. That 80 needs to get to 800, but that will take 15, 20 years. We have to be realistic.
“I am trying to keep it positive — nearly one in three clubs has an Asian player on the professional pathway. There are 16 players on professional contracts and 22 scholars and 18-year-olds. We have another 50-odd kids in the academies. That’s the highest numbers we’ve had registered at any one time.”
(Top photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Iqbal is eligible to represent England, Iraq and Pakistan at international level. In May 2021, he received an Iraqi passport, and has represented Iraq at youth international level. In June 2021, he was called up to the Iraq under-20 team for the 2021 Arab Cup U-20.What happened to Zidane Iqbal? ›
Zidane Iqbal has switched agencies after a loan move failed to materialise in the January transfer window.What ethnicity is Zidane Iqbal? ›
Iqbal, who was born in Whalley Range, south of Manchester city centre, came across as thoughtful when he elaborated on his heritage. “I'm proud of being English, Pakistani and Iraqi,” he said in a strong Mancunian accent.How old is Zidane Iqbal? › Why is Zidane important? ›
He most recently coached Spanish club Real Madrid and is one of the most successful coaches in the world. Widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, Zidane was a playmaker renowned for his elegance, vision, passing, ball control, and technique.What was Zidane known for? ›
Zinedine Zidane, byname Zizou, (born June 23, 1972, Marseille, France), French football (soccer) player who led his country to victories in the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship. He later found success as a manager.Did Zidane apologize for headbutt? ›
After that first brush between us, I apologised but he reacted badly. “After the third clash, I frowned and he retorted: 'I'll give you my shirt later'. I replied that I'd rather have his sister than his shirt. “My words were stupid but did not deserve that reaction.Why was Zidane punished? ›
Zinedine Zidane was banned by FIFA for three games for head-butting Italy defender Marco Materazzi in the chest during the World Cup final. Now retired, the former France captain will serve his punishment by doing community work. Materazzi was suspended for two matches for provoking Zidane with insults.Why doesn't Zidane Iqbal play? ›
Iqbal is too good for the Under-21s, yet not good enough for the first-team - so he's not playing in either. It must be a tough position to be in. It's not like he won't be benefiting from training with Ten Hag and his players, it's priceless experience and it is great that he's rated so highly by the club.What religion is Hajj Zinedine Zidane? ›
He is an Islam of Algerian Kabyle descent.
Zidane is laid-back, casual, outgoing, and generally friendly to those around him. He is flirtatious with women, but develops feelings for Garnet specifically. When the situation calls for it, he can be more serious, particularly in the face of danger.How many languages does Zidane know? ›
For instance, former French captain and national hero Zinedine Zidane speaks French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic and Berber.Where is Zidane ethnicity? ›
Zidane, of Algerian origin, was raised in Marseille. He began playing with the youth teams of his native city, from where he went to Cannes, with whom he made his debut in the French first division at the age of 17. In 1992, after the relegation of his previous club, he signed with Girondins Bordeaux.Where is Zidane Iqbal originally from? ›
Though Zidane is considered an all-time great at the club, during his early days he considered FC Barcelona his favourite Spanish team.What are 3 facts about Zidane? ›
- Zinedine Zidane has Algerian parents.
- Zinedine Zidane has 3 older brothers and 1 younger sister.
- He started playing football at 5 years old.
- His first goal with Cannes earned him his first car.
- His fans and friends call him “Zizou”
- Zidane married a former dancer and model.
Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane: Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in history - ESPN.How many goals does Zidane have all time? ›
Meaning:Abundance, growth. Help baby blossom into their best self with the name Zidane. This masculine, Jamaican name has Arabic roots, translating to “abundance” and “growth.” Once your little one joins your family, they will have plenty of opportunity to sprout and grow into their own.Why did Zidane retire so early? ›
"I didn't want to go on for another year. The past two years I haven't been on top form and that's no good when you play at a club like Real. "I'm at an age when it's more and more difficult (to play) every year. I don't want to spend another year like last year or even the last two years."
Zinedine Zidane has said that former Real Madrid and Brazil striker Ronaldo was "the best player" that he ever played alongside during his illustrious career. Ronaldo, who represented Los Blancos between 2002 and 2007, won the La Liga title with Zidane in the Spanish capital in 2003.What is Zidane doing now? ›
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The former Real Madrid coach has refused to sit on the bench at the Parc des Princes. PSG player Achraf Hakimi speaks about his relationship with former manager at Real Madrid and France legend Zinedine Zidane.Why did Zidane stop playing football? ›
There was still time left in the 2005/06 campaign, but Zidane didn't want speculation hanging over him and the club. "I'll stop playing after the World Cup," he explained. "It's a definitive decision and I don't want to start another season to play like this. "It's a decision I'm taking after reflecting with maturity.Why did Zidane get a red card in World Cup? ›
The match went into extra time and towards the end, came one of the most bizarre moments of a World Cup final. Zidane and Materazzi had a heated exchange, which was followed by some shirt tugging and Zidane's headbutt into Materazzi's chest. The French star was sent off.Why was Zidane suspended? ›
FIFA, soccer's world governing body, said yesterday that Zinédine Zidane, the French star who head-butted an opponent in the closing minutes of the World Cup final, would be suspended for three games and fined 7,500 Swiss francs (about $6,000).Did Zidane try to play for Algeria? ›
He appeared for the Algeria national team at the 1982 World Cup and at the 1986 World Cup, in which he scored one goal, a free kick against Northern Ireland.What other players said about Zidane? ›
He was more than good, he came from another planet. His team-mates became like him when he was on the pitch.” “I don't think my players would be too upset if I mentioned that I'd like Zidane in our side” . . . “You look at Zidane and think 'I've never seen a player quite like that'. Diego Maradona was a great player.Does Zinedine Zidane pray? ›
Zidane does not talk much about his religion but has been seen praying before games.Who is Mbappe's religion? ›
According to the report of sportsmanor.com, Mbappe's religion is Christian.
Mecca is considered the spiritual center of Islam because it was where the Prophet Mohammed is said to have received his first revelations in the early 7th century. At its heart is the cube-shaped Ka'ba, built by Abraham and his son Ishmael, according to the Quran.What is Zidane coaching style? ›
In his first press conference, Zidane emphasized introducing an 'attractive attacking style' with possession and speed as the main principles of his team. He prioritized ball retention more than anything and for that, you need to get your ideas across to the players very carefully.How tall is Zidane tribal? ›
1 Zidane Tribal
This cunning, agile Thief is a super valuable member of the team (remember, friends: always steal from bosses) and his blossoming relationship with Garnet is a joy to watch. He's also sixteen, 5'7” and was born in September 1783.
Nevertheless, Zidane speaks fluently with a diverse vocabulary, which allows him to answer every question in solid Spanish. Since he now lives in Madrid for more than ten years, including interruptions, he can communicate at a high level.Which famous footballer can speak the most languages? ›
Belgian player Romelu Lukaku is famous for speaking eight different languages! He grew up using Flemish Dutch and French, and also learned the Bantu language Lingala. He's also learned the languages of places he's lived during his soccer career, including English and Italian.What language do the refs speak at FIFA? ›
At international level, FIFA has four official languages: English, Spanish, French and German. Again, international referees must be able to speak good English.Is Zidane the greatest French player? ›
In the eyes of many, 'Zizou' is not just the greatest French player in history, but the greatest midfielder of all.Why did Zidane Iqbal choose Iraq? ›
Promoted Stories. Having been with United's academy at the age of nine, Iqbal had his pick of national sides to choose from – as well as being eligible for England, he could also represent Iraq, where his mother was born, or Pakistan, where his father was born.Who is the idol of Zidane? ›
Zidane met his idol, Enzo Francescoli, when he was 16 years old and playing for Marseille. Zinedine later named his son after the famous Uruguayan.Who does Zidane Iqbal play for? ›
Zinedine Zidane: Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in history.Who went into Iraq first? ›
The U.S.-led coalition sent 160,000 troops into Iraq during the initial invasion phase, which lasted from 19 March to 1 May 2003. About 73% or 130,000 soldiers were American, with about 45,000 British soldiers (25%), 2,000 Australian soldiers (1%), and 194 Polish soldiers (0.1%).Who spoke out against Iraq War? ›
US civil-rights leader the Reverend Jesse Jackson condemned the planned invasion, saying in February 2003 that it was not too late to stop the war and that people "must march until there is a declaration of peace and reconciliation." The Vatican also spoke out against war in Iraq.Who caused the Iran-Iraq War? ›
Tensions between Iraq and Iran were fuelled by Iran's Islamic revolution and its appearance of being a Pan-Islamic force, in contrast to Iraq's Arab nationalism.Who is Messi idol? ›
Messi once revealed Aimar was his childhood idol
But for Messi, there's an unusual name that comes up as a childhood idol. “Pablo Aimar was, and is, my idol,” Messi once revealed. “I really like to watch him play and I have followed his career since the beginning at River Plate.”
Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid)
Ronaldo spent nine-trophy-laden years at Real Madrid, and it comes as little to no surprise he inspires the current stars at Los Blancos.
Neymar has revealed he learned every day from his "football idol" Lionel Messi while at Barcelona and described Cristiano Ronaldo as a "monster".Which team does Zidane coach now? ›
|Club & role||Appointed|
|Real Madrid Manager||18/19 (Mar 11, 2019)||20/21 (Jun 30, 2021)|
|Real Madrid Manager||15/16 (Jan 4, 2016)||17/18 (May 31, 2018)|
|RM Castilla Manager||14/15 (Aug 26, 2014)||15/16 (Jan 4, 2016)|
|RM Castilla Assistant Manager||14/15 (Jul 1, 2014)||14/15 (Aug 25, 2014)|
Hannibal Mejbri (Arabic: حَنِّبَعْل المجبري; born 21 January 2003) is a professional footballer who plays as a midfielder for Premier League club Manchester United and the Tunisia national team.Who does Zidane prefer Messi or Ronaldo? ›
Zidane was quoted as saying by GOAL: "Cristiano is the best. Messi is his rival and it's the rivalry everyone wants to see. But Ronaldo is phenomenal.
"Funnily enough our friendship began when I was playing for Inter Milan and I got injured for the first time," he said. "And without even ever having exchanged a word with him, Zidane took a plane and flew out to Paris to visit me. That's how we became friends. "I don't have any other explanation."