Iqbal "very excited" ahead of Iraq debut
Manchester United midfielder Zidane Iqbal is set to make his senior international debut this week after accepting a call-up from the Iraq national team.
The Whalley Range-born Academy player is a proud Mancunian of Pakistani and Iraqi heritage and is thrilled to have the chance to play on the senior stage with Iraq, the country of his mother’s birth.
“I’m very excited,” Zidane told club media.
“It’s another milestone I’m going to hit, my first-team debut for Iraq. I’m looking forward to it and it’s a big game, so hopefully we can win.
“I feel that this is the right decision for me in my career. It’ll be such an honour to represent Iraq. My family are proud of me and I just feel that it’ll be a forward step in my career, playing in the World Cup qualifiers, in big games. It’ll be a massive honour.”
The 18-year-old flew out to join up with the Iraq squad on Sunday after playing in the Under-23s’ Premier League 2 win against Brighton & Hove Albion on Friday. He could make his debut as early as Thursday afternoon, when Iraq take on Iran in a crucial World Cup qualifier at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran.
Iqbal has been with the Academy since he was nine, having been spotted while playing for his local team, Sale United.
In December, he became the first British South Asian to represent the club’s first team when he came off the bench to replace Jesse Lingard in United’s 1-1 Champions League draw with Young Boys.
Zidane’s father, Aamar, grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, while his mother is from Samawah, Iraq. Both moved to England when they were young and have lived in Manchester for decades.
“I’ve grown up in Manchester my whole life so I’d say I’m a proud Mancunian,” Zidane explained. “But I’m also proud of my heritage as well. I’m proud of being English, Pakistani and Iraqi.
“Me choosing to play for Iraq doesn’t mean I’m not a proud Mancunian or a proud Pakistani. I just feel this is the right opportunity for me as a player, the right step in my career and an honour, but it definitely doesn’t take away the fact that I’m a Mancunian and a Pakistani as well.”
After becoming the first British South Asian to play for United, an enormous outpouring of support and admiration greeted Iqbal’s social media posts.
For Zidane, it was a source of great personal pride, even if the achievement will have much wider significance to millions of others around the world.
“It was massive, but it’s not something I really focused on since I was young,” he said.
“I just enjoyed the sport and didn’t really think too much about that and as I got older, I realised that I was the first South Asian, so it’s a great thing but, ultimately, it’s just a lot of hard work that got me there.
“The support has been great. I’ve had so many messages that I can’t read through them all! But the ones I have read have been really good and positive and hopefully I can keep it up and just excel from here.
“Of course I’d like to be a good role model. I see lots of people saying, ‘oh, you’re a role model’ and I try and take that on in everything I do, really. I still focus on myself, I’ve still got a lot to learn, but if I was to be a role model, I’d obviously want to be a good one and hopefully I can be.”
For now, everyone at Manchester United wishes Zidane the best of luck as he joins up with Iraq, who face Iran on Thursday at 14:30 GMT.