By Shahrukh Sohail, Chief Editor, Islamabad
As a player, he’s been with Danish giants FC Copenhagen and SuperLiga club HB Køge but when the opportunity to play International football with Pakistan arose, he simply couldn’t refuse it.
Mohammad Ali made his debut against Singapore last year and since then has confirmed his status as a first-choice starter alongside Hassan Bashir.
His sublime skills have seen him win penalties and he’s even had goals disallowed for the Pak Shaheens, but he admits he’s a slow starter of sorts, as he only joined professional ranks after taking the game seriously in early teenage life.
“Well, I started a bit late compared to Danish players. They start around 4-6 years old. I started around 12-13 years old. I played in a local team near my home called Brønshøj for fun with my friends. My team won a couple of cup games , and then had a game against one of the best youth teams in Denmark back then (B93 Copenhagen) , and I played very well and scored I think ,” said Ali while exclusively talking to FootballPakistan.
“After that they called me, and I joined B93 . As 15 years old I signed my first contract with the team. And as u17 and u19 we played in the best Danish youth league, called JuniorLigaen and YnglingeLigaen, and I served the team as the captain. I was also in the camps for Danish youth national team, but did not get selected, neither at U-17 nor U-19,” he continued.
Shining for B93, UEFA Champions League regulars FC Copenhagen picked up the talented youngster, where he played for the reserves and faced intense first-team competition from Brazilian striker Santin and Senegalese International Dame N’doye.
“I made my debut for B93 senior A-team in an age of 17. I had my first year as senior in B93, and then F.C Copenhagen signed me. I joined them on a 1 year contract, where I played for the reserve team as my competition was very tough with strikers as Dame N’doye and Cesar Santin.”
With chances of breaking into the senior team bleak, Ali then linked up with Køge in the Danish 1st Division, where he helped them gain promotion to the Danish SuperLiga once again only to see an injury curtail his blossoming career.
“After F.C Copenhagen, I got a contract at HB Køge. When I came, we were playing in the Danish 1st division, then finished 2nd in the league and came to SuperLiga (Top level in Denmark). But due an injury for about 8 months, I didn’t get a new contract with the team. So I had to go some leagues down , to hopefully come back in the best leagues , currently I’m playing for BK Avarta as a vice captain in the Danish 2nd division,” he said.
His shining performances in Denmark did not go unnoticed for FootballPakistan, who scouted his potential and through England-based Director Mohammad Shahnawaz ensured that he was made available for the Pakistan National Team.
And according to Ali, when the chance came to play International football, he agreed without a blink of an eye.
“It’s always interesting to represent a national team, and when it’s for Pakistan, our fathers birth country, there was no thinking. It is a pleasure to represent Pakistan national team; it’s an honour to be a part of our origin country. It means a lot for me, and you really play with your heart, because you know it’s the country’s honour you play for. I was very happy when I was called up for the first time, and that happened when Shahnawaz contacted me, and through him I came in contact with the PFF,” he continued while talking to FootballPakistan.
After making his debut last year, Ali was included in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers squad and shined consistently, despite having two goals disallowed against Macau and Kyrgyzstan respectively. And the forward reckons that not scoring is always a letdown, but losing a game is far more disturbing.
“True, I have been very close to score as you say. And as an offensive player there is nothing better to score goals in every match. Maybe I have been unlucky , but when it’s in those matches where it actually could do a difference , as the 1-0 lost against Tajikistan and 1-0 lost against Kyrgyzstan , instead of 1-0 lost we could have a 1-1 result , I get even more disappointed .”
“But Insha’Allah my first goal for Pakistan will come some day, I won’t stop working hard, the bad luck, makes me even thirstier to score. So it doesn’t affect me that I haven’t scored, even when I have been so close. But what means most for me, is that the team makes a good result, if I’m the scorer or not, doesn’t make any difference, the team is first then the individual,” he claimed.
Luckily Ali has known stars such as goalkeeper Yousuf Butt and Hassan Bashir beforehand, so that made his transition onto the International stage easier than most.
“Yes I have been friends with Yousuf Butt since we were kids. So I know him very well. And almost every footballer in Denmark knows each other, or knows who the person is. So that way I knew about Hassan and have meet him once or twice before.”
And with Hassan partnering him up-front and scoring for the Shaheens consistently, Ali reiterated that good times were not far away and he was just thrilled to be leading the line for the National Team.
“I’m very thankful to be given the chance to play for Pakistan. We have very good strikers in the national team that makes it a very big honour. And it’s a pleasure to play with Hassan as well, because he is a very good player.”
“And I’m just glad, that people likes what they see, and believe in us. That means that maybe we are doing something right. But it’s nothing I ever think about, I just want to perform my best,” he revealed during the exclusive chat with FootballPakistan.
Although things are now rosy for the tricky attacker, his determination for footballing success put him at loggerheads with his family and through their persistence, Ali managed to balance his education with his club commitments, something which he believes will help him even further in life.
“They have been supporting me all the way trough, but in same time, I was also forced to go to school and finish my college, and thanks to them I’m also at university today.”
“Once I remember, that my father said to me, I won’t let you go to football! So after that I started to interest me more about my school as well, so I could do both football and the school. Because I liked football so much and I didn’t wanted him to stop my football, I started to concentrate more on school as well.”
Playing in the rugged Danish leagues, Ali has had many inspirational heroes to look up to, but according to him Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one star that stands out from the rest.
“If I have to say an idol, I would say Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But I get my inspirations from a lot of the top players. My dream is to play at the highest level,” he added.
And now with a new coach and an impressive SAFF Championship campaign from the team, Ali or ‘Mo’ as his friends call him is optimistic about Pakistan’s future and reckons that the change in footballing approach to a slick passing style will definitely help their chances.
“I’m really looking forward to these matches, especially with the new coach, because I have heard good things about him. He wants the team to play football, quick passes, not long balls, and that suits me very well.”
“We have improved very much, the team had a very good SAFF cup, and Insha’Allah we will improve even more,” the former Copenhagen forward was quoted as saying while speaking to FootballPakistan.