Ali Adnan: Udinese's Iraqi youngster who could become the next Gareth Bale

Blair Newman provides the lowdown on the Zebrette's latest star in the making...

The 60-second story

FACT FILE

  • Name: Ali Adnan
  • Date of birth: December 19, 1993
  • Place of birth: Baghdad, Iraq
  • Position: Left-back
  • Club: Udinese
  • Former clubs: Baghdad FC, Caykur Rizespor
  • International: Iraq (34 caps, 2 goals)

Udinese have forged a reputation over the years as a development club for some of the world’s finest players, something that can be evidenced simply by taking a look around Europe’s top leagues.

Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez, Bayern Munich’s Mehdi Benatia, Inter’s Samir Handanovic and Juventus’ Juan Cuadrado all benefited from the Zebrette’s extensive scouting network and commitment to youth, and Ali Adnan could be the latest name to join the prestigious list of alumni.

An attack-minded left-back, Adnan joined Udinese in July and made his debut for the club in their away win over champions Juventus on the opening day of the season. In doing so. he made history by becoming the first Iraqi to ever play in Serie A.

Coming from a football-oriented family, Adnan looked up to his father and uncle, who both played the game at a good level; the latter of the two, Ali Kadhim, is considered one of Iraq’s greatest ever players having scored 35 international goals during his career.

Following in his family’s footsteps, Adnan graduated from the Ammo Baba Football School before eventually being snapped up by Baghdad FC. Although still a teenager, by 2010 he was playing regularly in the Iraqi top tier.

Fine form at club level saw Adnan called into the Iraq senior national team squad, while he was also part of the group that played in the 2013 Under-20 World Cup. He helped his country to top their group, even scoring a 93rd-minute equaliser against England after a twisting, jinking run down the left-hand side.

Iraq’s tournament didn’t end there, though; the Lions of Mesopotamia progressing all the way to the semi-finals where they were eliminated on penalties by Uruguay, despite Adnan scoring in normal time and converting his spot-kick. It was a cruel end to a wonderful story, but Adnan had left his mark and was widely considered to have been one of the stars of the tournament.

His performances left an indelible impression on European scouts and, in the coming weeks, he would leave Iraq for the first time in his club career to join Caykur Rizespor in Turkey for a reported fee of £440,000.

Why you need to know him

Battling with Balotelli (we promise that's Adnan)

After making a strong start to life with Caykur Rizespor, Adnan began to catch the attention of bigger clubs. Galatasaray were reportedly interested, with Napoli, Genoa and Roma also linked. Adnan eventually chose Udinese; given the club’s aforementioned reputation for developing talent, the decision made total sense. His performances so far this season have suggested that Adnan made the right choice.

Adnan eventually chose Udinese as his preferred destination; given the club’s aforementioned reputation for developing talent, the decision made total sense

Stefano Colantuono’s side often line up in a 3-5-2 system with wing-backs on each side. Adnan, who has started every single one of Udinese’s Serie A fixtures as the left wing-back, has benefited from having the whole flank to work with, something that allows him to fully utilise his adventurous nature.

As an attacking, technically-sound left wing-back, he has drawn comparisons to Gareth Bale. While it remains too soon to consider him anywhere near the Real Madrid star’s level, there are certainly similarities between the two.

Bale began his career as a left-back before being moved further forward

Like Bale, Adnan could end up playing Premier League football, with Chelsea and Arsenal purportedly having looked at him in the past. Watford fans may also want to pay close attention to the Iraqi star given the familial ties between their owner and Udinese’s, although it is likely that Adnan would be moving on to bigger and better than what the Hornets could offer should he leave his current club.

Strengths

Adnan is in his element when charging down the left flank. In many respects he is the archetypal modern full-back, although he is more Matteo Darmian than Antonio Valencia in the sense that he is a solid defensive operator as well as a forward thinker. Adnan combines purposeful dribbling with pace and, at 6ft 2in, is relatively tall for a player in his position. While his height means he is a threat in the air, the Iraqi is more likely to be found standing over a set-piece than running into the box to get on the end of one: Adnan has a wicked left foot and is more than capable of bending in the odd screamer, as he did in Iraq’s Under-20 World Cup semi-final clash with Uruguay two years ago.

Weaknesses

Although capable of creating chances from dead ball situations, Adnan’s final ball from open play could do with some work. Whether picking a pass or putting in a cross, the 21-year-old is sometimes guilty of rushing or simply making the wrong call. His set-piece ability suggests that this may be an issue relating more to his decision-making in the midst of an attack rather than any overt technical deficiency.

They said…

Udinese coach Stefano Colantuono was under real pressure after his side lost four consecutive league games in the aftermath of their win over Juventus on the opening day of the season. He nonetheless found time to praise Adnan, saying: “He is a very interesting guy and has the potential to be a great player.”

Did you know?

In 2014, Adnan paid a visit to the frontline of Iraq’s civil war to support soldiers fighting Isis. He was pictured in a bulletproof vest, prompting some to speculate that he had enrolled and was going to volunteer for the army. Although those rumours turned out to be untrue, he was still celebrated for his bravery and has since become a symbol of resistance in his home country.

What next?

Adnan has already won 34 caps for his country

At club level, meanwhile, he would be well-served to continue his development with Udinese for a couple of seasons before seeking to move on

Adnan will be desperate to help lead his country to their first World Cup finals since 1986 with Russia 2018 qualification well underway. At club level, meanwhile, he would be well-served to continue his development with Udinese for a couple of seasons before seeking to move on. Udinese use a system that suits Adnan down to the ground and, while a selling club, they are not in the business of releasing players for quick profit, preferring to hold on to their starlets until they are ready to go straight into the starting line-up of top European clubs.

Whenever he does leave, Adnan will take a large following with him to his next club: since signing for Udinese, the club’s official Facebook page has gained 110,000 more Likes, its Instagram account 16,500 new followers and its Twitter page 22,000 new followers. These figures show that, as well as being a gifted young footballer, Adnan has a strong personal brand, making him an asset off the pitch as well as on it.

The latest prospects profiled at FourFourTwo.com