Radhi, Ahmad (1964–)
Considered by many to be Iraq's greatest football (soccer) star, Ahmad Radhi (Amaiesh) had a fourteen-year playing career whose highlights include being named 1988 Asian Footballer of the Year. As a forward on Iraq's national team from 1983 to 1997, he scored forty-two goals.
Soccer was well established in Iraq by the 1950s and a national league was formed in the 1960s. If soccer had not already been a source of pride and center of entertainment, Iraq's success in international play during the 1970s made it so.
Radhi was born on 21 March 1964, and grew up in a poor working-class neighborhood in Baghdad. While nothing has been published about his family or his childhood, it is reasonable to assume that like most boys he spent a lot of time playing soccer in the streets. He probably competed on school teams as well.
A talented youth, at age eighteen he attracted the attention of Uday Saddam Hussein, son of the Iraqi president. Uday was a dominant presence in Iraqi sports, heading the Olympic Committee, directing the national football team, and serving as president of al-Rashid Football Club. In 1983, Radhi was selected to play for the Iraqi national team.
His career blossomed and it may be assumed his talents expanded. In the 1985–1986 season Radhi was a top scorer in the Iraqi league and in 1986, as a player on the national team, he scored Iraq's only world cup goal in a match against Belgium. In the mid-1980s he was a standout for al-Rashid, the dominant team in the Iraqi league.
Some have accused Radhi of being complicit with Uday's political oppression and other crimes, but these claims are unsubstantiated, and there is contradictory evidence. As was common for players who displeased Uday, Radhi was jailed briefly in 1985, 1989, and 1996, when he was beaten, had his head shaved, and was forced to stand in sewage.
In different circumstances, Radhi would almost certainly have enjoyed success playing for European clubs. However, under Uday's control, player options were limited. In 1990 Radhi signed a transfer agreement to play in Qatar but although he collected his salary, which may have been passed to Uday, he did not compete there. Toward the end of his career he did play in Qatar. Even in Iraq, however, he attained the status and accoutrements of an athletic superstar, including nice cars and houses.
At the end of his playing days, Radhi held positions in the Iraqi Football Association (IFA). In May 2004, he was alleged to have thrown hand grenades at the house of IFA president Husayn Sa'id after the latter fired him. Apparently nothing came of the charges. He is currently president of al-Zawra Football Club and the coach of Iraq's under-17 team. In national elections in 2005, Radhi publicly supported the slate of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party.
INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Radhi's career was almost certainly influenced by his predecessors, Ammo Baba and Basil Gorgis, and his contemporaries, Husayn Sa'id, Falah Hasan, and Thamir Yusif. Athletes' contributions are commonly measured by recognition; in 1988 Radhi was selected Asian Footballer of the Year. In the 1990 World Cup qualifying match against Jordan, he scored four goals. Equally significant, in seventy-three international matches, he scored forty-two goals. He is ranked ninth greatest Asian Footballer by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics.
THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE
Radhi's career spanned some of the worst years in Iraq's history. The International Federation of Association Football (known by its French acronym, FIFA) banned international matches in Iraq during the Iraq-Iran War of 1980–1988. Football competitions were interrupted by the 1991 war. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Uday Saddam Hussein resorted to imprisonment, torture, and extortion in an effort to control athletes. That Radhi not only survived but in many matches played at an exceptional level is testament to his skill and drive. His status as a stellar footballer seems ensured.
Name: Ahmad Radhi (Amaiesh)
Birth: 1964, Baghdad, Iraq
Family: Married; three daughters
- 1982–1985: Plays for al-Zawra team, Baghdad
- 1983–1997: Plays for Iraqi national team
- 1985–1989: Plays for al-Rashid, Baghdad
- 1988: Selected Asian Footballer of the Year
- 1989–1993: Plays for al-Zawra, Baghdad
- 1993–1994: Plays for al-Wakra, Doha, Qatar
- 1997–1999: Plays for al-Zawra, Baghdad
- 1999–present: President, al-Zawra Football Club; coach of Iraqi under-17 team
At least from an Iraqi perspective, Ahmad Radhi is a monumental football star. In a world where even top athletes fade rapidly from the public mind, Radhi has not. Indicative of his continuing status is that his 1986 World Cup goal is available for viewing on the YouTube Internet Web site.
Freeman, Simon. Baghdad FC: Iraq's Football Story. London: John Murray, 2005.
Joshi, Vijay. "Passion for soccer survives sanctions in Iraq." Associated Press (29 January 1999).
Kaplow, Larry. "For Iraqi Soccer Star, Missed Goals Meant torture." Cox News Service (24 April 2003). Available from http://www.aliraqi.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-18815.html.
Thomas B. Stevenson