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Escaping death, poverty to nurture football dream

FC Bengaluru United's Mohamad Kdouh speaks of his career from Lebanon to Bengaluru
Last Updated : 26 December 2022, 16:52 IST
Last Updated : 26 December 2022, 16:52 IST
Last Updated : 26 December 2022, 16:52 IST
Last Updated : 26 December 2022, 16:52 IST

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"Future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams," reads a tattoo on Mohamad Kdouh's arm.

To dream, they say, is allowed for it costs nothing. But the Lebanese footballer grew up in a place, and at a time, where even dreaming had its price.

"We have had a lot of war (in Lebanon)..." the FC Bengaluru United player says, sitting at the Bangalore Football Stadium as the evening light fades and mosquitoes start to swarm around us.

"I was born in 1993. We have had wars, ISIS problems and lots of explosions... Now when we have peace, we have an economic war," says Kdouh who had a providential escape from death.

As a youngster, Kdouh - the youngest of five whose house ran on the money their father made driving taxis and working as a plumber with the municipality - was a star in the making in Lebanon. He made his debut for Nejmeh SC - one of the biggest clubs in the Arab world - as a 16-year-old.

"I was in the U-15 team," he narrates his story. "They swapped our training with the first team. Once the training finished, an explosion happened and two players from our first team died. It could very well have been us..."

Hussein Dokmak and Hussein Neim were the two who died that day in 2007.

"Our houses and buildings were falling because of the war. Then during the time of ISIS, I was in Lebanon for a part of it, and there were explosions all the time. Roads were constantly closed and money was an issue... I wanted to leave Lebanon for a better life. I had the ambition and the talent, I had that dream...," the 29-year-old says.

The unrest in his home country meant it was far from a fertile land for football. Over the years, Lebanon has been marred by instabilities and conflicts. In a country with more than a dozen religious sects, football is deeply politicised, with clubs co-opted into political games and drawing allegiance and identity from different sections.

A flourishing league in the 1990s and early 2000s, the unrest in the region saw the league starved of money in the mid-2000s and fans were kept out of the stadiums for nearly seven years due to fears of tensions breaking out.

So his brother shot videos of Kdouh for highlights packages and send them to agents. The oldest brother, in Canada at the time, did his bit as well. The clubs did show interest - AS Cannes in France and FC Sion in Switzerland - but there were complications with the visa. At 19, he finally moved to one of the oldest clubs in Lithuania, FK Suduva, but quickly learned the realities of being a foreign player in Europe.

"Football in Europe is not similar in all countries. There are the big leagues and then there is the reality that for the majority of players who go from countries like mine... it is very hard, not impossible, to reach the top leagues," he says.

"To go to Europe from a country like Lebanon or India is not easy because the nationality and passport will not allow you to go there easily. Once you are there, you have to fight and learn because they are ahead of us in football.

"I was the best young player in my first season in Lithuania. I was set to move to Poland but they changed the rule that only one non-European player was allowed (in a team) so our chances went down. Football heritage of my country is less than Brazil and other such countries," he says.

Lithuania was tough, Finland was professional and Albania was not the most welcoming for a foreign player. He moved to football-crazy Indonesia before choosing to head back home in 2017. In between, he played in the AFC Cup and Europa League qualification and represented the national team.

Then came the economic crisis. A malaise that still haunts the country. For Kdouh, it meant time to leave again.

"I finished my bachelor's in Business Management and in 2019 I had to leave because of the economic situation. You have responsibilities and bills to pay. I'm fortunate to be here because I am helping my family. They need help. One brother is in Canada and I am here," he says.

Kdouh then looks across the stadium at the heart of Bengaluru.

"Football is the only place to forget about all this. Even during the hard times, I got everything from it," he admits. "Football was a way to go out and build another life without forgetting that we have a beautiful country.

"In Lebanon, you have everything... weather, good people... in February you can ski in the mountains and in half-hour, go for a swim in the sea. We wish we had peace there because then you will never leave. Lebanon, our country, is like this... there are always challenges. But that is life..." he says, his voice trailing off in the twilight as he looks around the empty stadium.

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Published 26 December 2022, 15:18 IST

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