FIFA have lifted the ban on Iraqi stadiums for just friendlies at the time being. Some may not know that a clause you added to your contract prevents you from visiting Baghdad. Will you start rethinking that decision and make an exception for international matches in the capital?
I don’t have a contract with Iraq at the moment. Therefore I don’t have a clause of such. We are currently still negotiating terms and conditions however nothing has been signed.
The FA has confirmed Iraq will play Syria on June 27th at the Basra Sports City stadium. Will you be in Basra for that game?
I don’t know. I only know the plan with the Iraq Football Association until June 17th.
If an international fixture was to take place in either Baghdad or Basra would you go?
I’ll be honest, I would like to and I have to. At some point we have to give back to the Iraqi people. They are supporting us a lot and it’s time to give back.
A lot of the matches will be played in Zakho’s new stadium but the people of Iraq want games to be played in Baghdad.
I know but this is a good first step. At the start, games were banned from Iraq but now friendlies can be played in Zakho. I think it’s logical to start in the Kurdish region because at the moment it’s the safest. Once games in Zakho show FIFA that Iraq is capable of hosting matches then they’ll be moved to Baghdad. Everyone including the federation president who is Kurdish want games played in Baghdad. This is because the national team belongs in Baghdad. For the time being it’s intelligent to play the majority of matches in Zakho. Because if for any reason we play our first official match since the ban was lifted in Baghdad and something happens then games at home will be held back again for another five or ten years. However, everyone, me being the first, want games to be played in Baghdad.
What do you think of Younis Mahmoud’s comments on a live television interview in which he questioned the attitude and patriotism of our country’s expatriates?
When I’m working with the national team, from what I’ve seen, everyone tries their best for Iraq. At times people can say expats in a disrespectful way. I don’t know why. These players are losing money, time and increasing their risk of injury as they play for free for Iraq. They are just trying to help the country. I don’t notice anything different in the attitudes of expats and those based in Iraq.
The FA seems to have a scouting system now where they primarily focus on expats. Do you think it’s time for Iraq to start searching for talent from players in the Iraqi league rather than players in lower divisions of Europe, USA & Australia?
Iraq has some great players so if an expat is called up then it’s because he fits our criteria. If expats are handed a trial then it’s only right that Iraqi based players are given the same opportunity. If by playing abroad means you have a better chance of playing with the national team then for me that is not fair. Therefore if we are looking to bring someone from abroad, an expat, then he has to be up to the same standard of the national team.
On a lighter note Gonzalo, what is your favourite Iraqi cuisine?
Dolma, for sure! I really love Dolma. I tried Dolma for the first time in Arbil. Also coach Radhi’s wife makes the best Dolma!
How’s life in Doha anyway?
I really enjoy life in Doha. However, being honest with you, if the situation in Iraq was better I would prefer to live in Iraq. Iraqis are very similar to the people of Spain. I would feel much happier living in Iraq than in Qatar if circumstances were normal. Iraq is a great country.
So just to round up, the big question that everyone at Soccer Iraq wants to know… who is currently the fittest Iraqi player?
Haha! It’s difficult to say because all of them work so hard. Even Younis, who has been criticised for perhaps being too old, trains extremely well.
Thank you for your time, Gonzalo! We hope you can become the catalyst in inspiring Iraq to their second ever World Cup.
No problem at all. That is my dream!
(Contributed by Laith Al Naeme / Soccer Iraq)