Political wrangling and a knot of red tape prevented Yaser Kasim from carving a career with Sheffield United, writes James Shield.
Tomorrow, three years after that brief encounter with the South Yorkshire club, the midfielder will enjoy another opportunity to impress at Bramall Lane.
“I nearly signed for United a few seasons ago,” Kasim, now of League One rivals Swindon Town, revealed last night. “I spent two months training there under Kevin Blackwell and Gary Speed after I left Tottenham Hotspur.
“Everything was kept pretty quiet and I think something would have been done but, in the end, Spurs were very strict about the compensation they were owed and it was impossible to get things sorted. So I went elsewhere.”
Kasim’s spell at the Redtooth Academy is merely a small footnote in a story crammed full of adventure, characters and coincidence.
Having moved to London with his parents from their native Baghdad, the Iraqi eventually joined Brighton and Hove Albion after rejecting the chance to turn professional at White Hart Lane. Loan spells with Luton and Macclesfield followed before Mark Cooper, the Town manager, lured him to the County Ground.
Kasim hopes his performances for Swindon, where he has featured 24 times this term, will enhance his prospects of a first senior international call-up having previously represented the Hakeem Shaker’s team at under-23 and Olympic Level.
“I would be so proud to play for Iraq,” Kasim told The Star. “Especially in Baghdad because it would be a very special occasion.
“Swindon is my absolute focus at the moment but if the opportunity arises, then make no mistake, I will be there.
“Football in Iraq is crazy. The fans are so dedicated and make huge sacrifices to turn up and watch the games no matter where they are.
“The country, as everyone knows, has been through some very tough times but there is a lot of sporting potential there and football is by far and away the favourite. It brings folk together.”
Kasim’s hopes of appearing at the London Games were dashed when an ineligible defender, Faisal Jasim, was selected for a qualification fixture with the UAE. But forthcoming matches against Bahrain, Oman and the People’s Republic of China - set to have a crucial bearing on who reaches the 2015 Asian Cup Finals in Australia - could help the 22-year-old achieve his aim.
“Because I have a UK passport, I keep getting advised to stay closer to home and look at Scotland instead,” Kasim, whose family left the Middle East when sanctions imposed on the Ba’athist regime began to bite, said. “But, for me, it would not be the same as Iraq.”
Tomorrow’s contest promises to be a fascinating encounter between two teams who, despite reaching the play-offs last term, now find themselves at opposite ends of the table. United, despite being unbeaten in four and having lost only twice under new manager Nigel Clough, are 20th. Swindon, who progressed into the JP Trophy Southern Area final on Tuesday, 13 places higher in seventh but searching for their first win at this stadium for nearly 45 years.
“There wasn’t any hangover what happened,” Kasim explained. “Because we’ve got a young squad everyone just wanted to get back out there again which helped.”
Likewise an agreement with Kasim’s former employers Spurs which has seen a clutch of young talent, including Ryan Mason, Grant Hall and Alex Pritchard, arrive on loan.
“Swindon is such a friendly club,” he said. “I know (goalkeeper) Wes Foderingham from being youngsters in London and it’s strange that, on top of the link with my old club Spurs, that I bumped into him here again.”