“Football lost a legend today.”
Those were the words of the sport’s international governing body FIFA upon hearing the news that has rocked our country. The term ‘legend’ has often been overused in modern times – but not here. Ahmed Radhi embodied the word in its entirety, and his sad passing represents a huge loss not only to Iraq but to the continent of Asia and the game as a whole.
Ahmed Radhi began his senior career in 1982 at giants Al-Zawraa, breaking into the side at just 18 years old. It didn’t take long for him to shine for the Gulls, scoring the third-most goals in the league in 1982/83. He was soon forced to sign for Al-Rasheed, the club founded by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, and he continued to grow as a player, picking up three league titles, two cups, three Arab club trophies and the league’s Golden Boot award there.
He returned to Al-Zawraa and continued his record-breaking goalscoring exploits, bagging a mighty 34 goals in one season in 1991/92 and famously netting in a record 15 consecutive league games the following campaign. He went on to win two more leagues and five cup titles at Al-Zawraa and also enjoyed a successful spell with Al-Wakrah in the Qatari League.
There have been several Iraqi players throughout history that have impressed at club level but failed to make it count on the international stage. But a quick look at Ahmed Radhi’s international record will show you that he was simply a different beast. From his first goal in 1983 to his 62nd goal in 1997, the captain was a scoring machine for the Lions of Mesopotamia, netting several goals against Asia’s best including the likes of Japan, Saudi Arabia and Iran across 121 matches. He even scored five goals in one match, and was capable of any type of goal whether it be a header, a long-range strike, a calm one-on-one or an acrobatic finish. He remains Iraq’s second-highest scorer of all-time.
One of his 62 international goals stands out above the rest. Radhi had scored eight times in the 1986 World Cup qualifying campaign to inspire the Lions to their first World Cup finals, and in Mexico, Radhi made history as his brilliant finish against eventual semi-finalists Belgium marked Iraq’s first and only goal in a FIFA World Cup. His consistent record for both club and country saw him named Asia’s Footballer of the Year in 1988 and led to his club receiving a $1m offer from Uruguayan club Nacional, who had recently been crowned club world champions at the time. Of course, Saddam Hussein’s government refused to allow the deal to go ahead.
After his retirement in 1999, Radhi went into coaching where he won the Iraqi Elite Cup as manager of Al-Shorta, followed by spells in charge of Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, Al-Zawraa and the Iraqi youth team. He then moved towards administrative work and was seen by many fans as a potential future president of the Iraq FA. Unfortunately, we will never get to see what the future held for our World Cup hero, as the coronavirus has taken him at the age of 56, just nine days after it also took the life of his friend and fellow former Iraqi player and coach Ali Hadi.
Thank you Ahmed Radhi for everything you gave for our nation – you will remain in our hearts forever. We hope Iraqis will be encouraged to follow the social distancing guidelines as best they can as our country and the rest of the world continues to fight this virus.
Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un – Verily we belong to God, and verily to Him do we return.