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Dhurgham Ismail: The young Iraqi making his mark in Europe

A bonafide star at the age of just 21, Dhurgham Ismail has already achieved plenty for both club and country. A rare Iraqi playing in Europe, is a move to one of the continent's bigger leagues now on the cards? Scott McIntyre investigates...

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THE 60-SECOND STORY

FACTBOX

  • Date of birth: May 23, 1994
  • Place of birth: Amarah, Maysan, Iraq
  • Height: 178cm
  • Position: Left-back
  • Current club: Rizespor (Turkey)

One of only a handful of Middle Eastern players at a top-flight European league, and only recently turned 21, the marauding left-sided Iraqi is rightly regarded as one of the best prospects to have come out of the region in many years.

Signed on loan by top-flight Turkish outfit Rizespor at the start of the current season, he’s worked his way into being a regular fixture for the club based in the picturesque city on the banks of the Black Sea.

A trademark free-kick on his international debut for Iraq at the age of just 18 shot him onto the continental radar and he was unanimously adjudged Iraq’s best player at last year’s Asian Cup, where his efforts from the penalty spot helped guide his nation into the semi-finals. 

His exploits also resulted in Ismail being named No.46 in FourFourTwo's Asia 50 for 2016.

WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW HIM

Iraq has a fine tradition for producing incredibly talented, and technically gifted, footballers that somehow fail to live up to their promise in making it ‘big’ in leagues outside of the Middle East.

Dhurgham is a classic example of the new breed of multi-talented footballers

Now though, with the success of Ali Adnan (ironically another left-back who also started his European career with Rizespor) at Udinese, scouts and clubs in Europe are finally starting to take notice of the talented crop of youngsters emerging from one of the region’s biggest hothouses in terms of raw talent.

Ismail was a household name in his homeland from his teenage years and, prior to signing the loan deal that sent him to Turkey, helped guide Baghdad outfit Al Shorta to league titles in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Remarkably he scored in each of his final six league matches prior to his departure for Europe and, as an accomplished defender and a wonderful dead ball exponent, he’s very much in the modern mould of the attacking fullback.

STRENGTHS

Ismail is a classic example of the new breed of multi-talented footballers – technically outstanding, powerful, dynamic and capable of operating either as a left-winger or perhaps in the role where he will settle long-term, as a left-sided fullback.

He has outstanding aerobic capabilities that allow him to get and up down the left flank, is good in one-on-one situations where he can beat his man with pace, a dribble or a feint and is an outstanding free-kick and penalty taker. Under pressure in the Asian Cup quarters he scored both in stoppage time and then in the shootout, when there were far more experienced options ahead of the 20-year-old, who nobody assumed would be the first-choice taker.

WEAKNESSES

A player who has alternated between midfield and defence before settling into a role at the back at club level, his one-on-one defending and positional awareness is not perhaps at the level required to take the next step. But with a reputation as a hard worker, it’s an aspect of his game that you expect to see vast improvement in over the coming seasons.

There are a host of clubs on the continent considering a move for the exceptionally talented fullback

THEY SAID

"The Iraqi left-back was one of the finds of the tournament, keeping fellow starlet Ali Adnan out of the starting line-up and standing out in every game; as able in attack as he is in defence, the Al Shorta man is destined for bigger things.” – UAE newspaper Sport 360 naming Ismail in their Asian Cup team of the tournament.

DID YOU KNOW

It was reported that the player himself had to pay a sizeable ‘bribe’ – in the form of tens of thousands of dollars – to his former club president in Iraq to secure his move to Turkey after his (ITC) International Transfer Certificate was held up for ‘unknown reasons’.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

Ismail seems settled for now in Turkey, but it’s expected Rizespor will convert his loan into a permanent deal if they can stave off relegation this term. Yet there are already a host of clubs elsewhere on the continent considering a move for the exceptionally talented fullback.

Click here to read about Ismail on FourFourTwo's Asia 50 • Find all of our great Asia 50 content here