5 Facts About Zidane Iqbal: Manchester United’s Iraqi Star

the future of football

Unlike previous generations, we’re fortunate to be living in a time where football talents from our side of the world have never been as sought-after or respected on the global stage as they are today. Can it be at club or international level, the roster of athletes from the Middle East and North Africa are quickly growing and gaining recognition for their God-given skills, on-pitch genius, and contributions to the world of football. 

From Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez and Egypt’s Mohamed Salah to Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari and Morocco’s Achraf Hakimi, the Arab World is factually producing some of the most exciting players in the game right now, inspiring a whole new generation of athletes to follow in their cleated footsteps and take our region to a level it’s never reached before. 

With the rapid growth of the internet and the constant strive towards further representation in all fields and industries, previous players hailing from our neck of the woods were disproportionately overlooked as a result of their ethnicity, background, and social status, hindering their growth and success in the competitive world of football, despite their talent and abilities. 

Chances are, if you ask any of your peers about Mustapha Hadji or Rabah Madjer, their eyes will light up as they recount how the latter’s legendary backheel in the 1987 European Cup final for FC Porto went on to be named after him and is now attempted by footballers from all four corners of the globe.

Today, we’re keen on placing the onus on the next wave of stellar strikers, magical midfielders, and distinguished defenders who are set to shake up the status quo and fly our region’s flags as high as possible in the beautiful game. Such is the case with 20-year-old Zidane Iqbal, the Iraqi athlete currently sending waves across the football world with his exciting skills and vision on the pitch, despite his young age. Having already drawn comparisons to some of the greatest of the game, with his natural ability to read the game, dictate, play, and create opportunities for his side, Manchester United’s rising star is one of the most exciting prospects of tomorrow.

Below, five facts about Zidan Iqbal that you absolutely need to know:

He represents Iraq at the international football level


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Although he was eligible to represent England and Pakistan, Iqbal pledged allegiance to his maternal side’s nationality, Iraq, making his debut with the Lions of Mesopotamia in January 2022 against historical rivals Iran. Despite the unfortunate loss, the young prospect has repeatedly shared his aspirations for taking his side to the highest spheres of football and prove that they’re also capable of competing with the best teams in the world.His performance on the pitch suggests that he may very well be able to do just that.

He’s part Pakistani

Iqbal is by definition the epitome of a third-culture kid by being born in Manchester, England, to a Pakistani father and an Iraqi mother.  Eligible to hold three passports, his multi-cultural background is another reason why the 20-year-old footballer is so exciting to watch as millions of fans around the world can relate to him as a result of his plurality of identities.

He’s the first British South Asian to play for Manchester United and compete in the Champions League


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On December 8, 2021, the England-born player made his senior debut for his boyhood club Manchester United as a substitute in the 89th minute of a Champions League game against Swiss club BSC Young Boys. His entry into the fixture turned into a historic moment celebrated by many as he became the first British South Asian athlete to rack minutes for the 20-league winning side on top of becoming the first-ever British South Asian to compete in a Champions League match.

He’s Muslim


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Coming from two Muslim-majority countries, namely Pakistan and Iraq, it comes as no surprise to learn that Iqbal identifies as a Muslim. In previous interviews, he claimed that his faith plays a pivotal role in how he remains focused and disciplined on and off the pitch. Never missing a prayer, he heavily relies on God to guide him through this cutting-edge sport. 

He carries the same name as a previous Ballon D’or winner

In case you still haven’t noticed, Iqbal’s first name reminds us about another of the beautiful game’s greatest, namely 1998 Ballon D’or Winner Zinedine Zidane. Despite the odd coincidence in paths taken in life and similarity of talents, according to subscription-based sports website The Athletic, Iqbal was apparently not named after the French-Algerian footballer-turned-coach but instead because of the meaning of the moniker in Arabic language which means “increase” or “growth” when translated to English.

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