Iqbal: Debut was everything I dreamed of
Making a Manchester United debut was “everything I dreamed of and more,” says 18-year-old Zidane Iqbal, who is set to make his senior bow for the Iraq national team this week.
Iqbal was an 88th-minute substitute in United’s Champions League home match against Young Boys in December.
Born and raised in Whalley Range, two miles south of Old Trafford, Iqbal has grown up at the club and made his debut alongside childhood friend and long-time team-mate Charlie Savage.
“I found out the day before, when the coach came up to me and he was like ‘you’re not going to be involved with the Under-19s,’” Zidane recalled to us.
“I was kind of surprised. Then he said ‘you’re going to be with the first team’.
“Loads of emotions burst through my body and, as soon as the conversation was over with my coach, I quickly contacted my mum, my dad, my brother. I was like, ‘look, there’s a good chance I could be playing for the first team tomorrow.’”
The midfielder has travelled to join up with Iraq’s senior national team for the first time, having made several appearances for the Under-23s in 2021.
Zidane talked us through his heritage and identity this week, explaining that he is a proud Mancunian but also a proud Pakistani and a proud Iraqi. His father is from Lahar, Pakistan, and his mother from Samawah, in Iraq. Both were in attendance for his debut at Old Trafford last month.
“I knew where they were sat. I knew where my friends were, where my parents were and my family,” Iqbal said.
“My mates got near the tunnel at the start, gave me a couple of high-fives before I ran out and then ran back to their seats. At the end of the game, I gave them a little thumbs-up.
“The nerves were crazy. Seeing all the fans watching the game, even when I was warming up, shouting your name and all the singing. It was everything I dreamed of and more, really.
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“It was an amazing feeling. I’ve been dreaming of that day since I was a kid and for it to finally come true was amazing.
“Honestly, if I could describe that feeling I would but it’s very hard to describe.”
Iqbal became the 241st Academy graduate to debut for the first team, but also the first British South Asian to represent the club’s senior side.
Over the past year, he’s been part of the PFA’s Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS), an initiative focused on increasing the number of Asian players within English professional football. Zidane has been both a mentee and a mentor in AIMS.
“It’s a good scheme,” Zidane said.
“There are loads of kids that I’m in touch with, and there are also first-team pros I’m in touch with. I speak to them whenever I’m down or I need some help, and they give me some advice.
“And for the little kids, it’s just good to be in contact. They contact me just for a quick chat or a game of FIFA or anything.
“There are a few my age who I speak to a lot and a couple of times a year, we’ll meet up in a footballing venue and just enjoy, play football, speak, have a laugh. It’s good.”
As for Iqbal’s ambitions going forward, he’ll return to United after a spell with the Iraq side and feature in Premier League 2 for the Under-23s and for the Under-19s in the UEFA Youth League.
“I’ll just give the Under-23s’ games my best shot, try to help the team win and give it my best. You never know what happens and we’ll see what the future has to hold.”