In the summer of 2013, Iraq’s children of war made headlines around the world with their herculean efforts at the FIFA World Youth Cup, losing on penalties in the semi-finals. But while the battled hardened Iraqis had lost the decisive battle in the cruellest of footballing scenarios, they had won admiration of millions in Iraq and around the world for the way they had played at the World Cup. One of those performers who personified what the Iraqis like to call Gheera Al-Iraqiya – a concept of coveting something so much they’re willing to fight for it – was the diminutive midfielder Humam Tariq, a born fighter, who only after the tournament revealed that he had been carrying an injury throughout the World Cup.
Who is Humam Tariq?
The boy from the East Baghdad district of Adhammiya, is the heir to a confectionery empire. Humam turned his back on a life of selling sweets for the family business Faraj Nuash & Sons, and decided to pursue a career in football, first joining Al-Zawraa’s youth set-up before moving to the club he supported growing up, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya.
In 2010 at the age of 14, he was drafted into the first team by Sabah Abdul-Jalil and the following season, Humam became a permanent fixture in the Blue Falcon’s first team. Humam made his name with the Iraq Under 19s team under the guidance of Hakim Shaker, a man who he sees as a kind of father figure. When the youth trainer was appointed head coach of the senior side, Humam was drafted into the squad for the first time and made his international debut at 16 years, 10 months and 20 days as a substitute in a friendly game with Tunisia.
There has been constant speculation about the player’s real age, like the rest of Hakim Shaker’s young fledglings, and it first came to light when he was one of nine players detained at Baghdad International Airport by security officials in 2012 after they discovered that the players had been flying on forged documents. Humam Tariq was born on February 10, 1996 and made his league debut at the age of only 14 years 3 months and 16 days – if the date of birth in his passport is to be believed – however there have been recent reports in the Iraqi media stating that he’s actually three years older. At the 22nd Gulf Cup in Manama against Saudi Arabia, the player covered the most distance on the field in one match – a record – with his 16 km beating the record of Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved who had run 15 km in one game according to his agent.
However, Humam, one of the players of the tournament, had put himself in the shop window – with his agent Najim Mohammed receiving offers from a host of clubs, from North Africa and the Gulf. Dubai-based Al-Ahli Sports Club was Humam’s next destination, with the UAE club’s Technical Consultant Fabio Cannavaro taking a particular interest in the acquisition of the Iraqi midfielder. However the player had to wait until he turned eighteen to sign a representation contract with his agent and finalize a professional deal to the UAE Arabian Gulf League. The player signed a two-year contract for a reported $700,000 US with Al-Ahli in 2014, turning down a proposed five-year deal – a personal decision made by the player, as he sees his transfer to Dubai as a stepping stone to his ultimate dream of playing in Europe.
In his first season in the UAE, the Iraqi was sent out on-loan to the modest AGL outfit Al-Dhafra after his parent club had registered four foreign players for the 2014-2015 season, leaving Humam out in the lurch after re-registering senior pro Hugo Viana for the final spot. But the midfielder has been a key player for Al-Dhafra this season under Marian Ion and Frenchman Laurent Banide, who took over from the Romanian at the start of the year, playing a total of 17 matches and scoring one goal in the UAE AG League.
Humam Tariq was named in Outside of the Boot‘s 100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2015 feature, coming in at #29 in the list of midfielders.
Style of play, Strengths and Weaknesses
His coach and mentor with the Iraqi teams, Hakim Shaker – who has used the player in a variety of roles on the pitch, rates Humam highly and attributed Iraq’s success at the 22nd Gulf Cup, as well as getting the best out of veteran captain Younis Mahmoud to the left-footed wizard. “The secret for the success of Younis at the Gulf Cup was Humam, and the secret to the future success of Younis will be Humam Tariq, because of the quick link-up play from Humam, as he’s the fastest player on the flanks to Younis, assisting him and one of the important keys to opening the door of the opposition is that he’s the quickest player in Iraq (on the ball),” said the former Iraqi national coach.
Humam can play on either flank, or as an attacking midfielder behind the lone front forward in Iraq’s favoured 4-5-1 formation and has even been deployed by as a man-marker at the 22nd Gulf Cup final – where he was handed the thankless task of following the silky-skilled UAE playmaker Omar Abdul-Rahman “Amouri” around the pitch and in a central midfield position when the national team took on the Peru in an international friendly in September 2014.
His playing style is a cross between a defensive midfielder and an attacking forward. A hard-working midfield dynamo, ready, if needed, to roll up his sleeves and willing to do the ugly side of the game, and at the same time with his quick feet and a low centre of gravity, Humam also has that knack of being able to take players on in the opposition’s half and beating them.
At Al-Dhafra this season, Humam – one of the club’s professionals, and a vital protagonist for the team, has been given extra team responsibilities by his coach than what he was used to, whilst playing in the Iraqi League, and is frequently seen dropping deep to start off attacking moves for his team, and attempting to direct the game for his team.
Described as an ‘attacking midfielder’, it’s difficult to really pinpoint Humam’s best position at the present time of his career and player development. The Baghdad-born player has all the attributes of a cultured playmaker, good close control, balance and vision. However, he lacks the ability to cast his authority on a game, but at just 22, he has plenty of time to develop and mature into a real game changer. This is where his future position may lie, rather than on the wings where he’s currently being played for both club and country. While he may not have the presence of a natural midfield playmaker, Humam’s definitive position could be as a deep-lying forward, behind a central striker, giving him the freedom of movement, to draw opposing players out of position and exploit holes in the opposition’s defence.
Humam isn’t the finished article by a long stretch of the imagination, though he has the potential to become a central figure, rather than the bit-part role he currently plays on the left wing. At first glance, Humam doesn’t look or play anything like an old fashioned attacking wide-man, but is deployed as more of an unorthodox modern-day winger, tucking in when his team is without the ball and often asked to press the opposition to regain back possession. This tiring defensive responsibility, though vital for his team’s game plan, has sometimes hindered or overshadowed his natural attacking capabilities in the final third. For a player of Humam’s ability, his goalscoring record is abysmal, with only five goals to his name in the past three seasons of club football and while he is seen as more of a provider than a goalscorer, for an attacking midfielder or left-sided attacker, he should be popping up in the opposition’s penalty area more often and taking shots at goal. He needs to try and become a more effective footballer on the field, someone that could turn a game in an instant. This is the kind of pivotal player that Humam could eventually become.
Humam doesn’t create enough, nor contributes in attack as he should do. The lack of effectiveness or the absence of his own stamp on a game, at times, would primarily be one of his weak points, along with his finishing, final ball and his crossing, three things that would add something more to his game as a potential match-winner.
What does the future hold?
Humam’s likely to stay with Al-Dhafra and sign a permanent deal or return to his parent club Al-Ahly for next season. His future ambition is to play in Europe one day. and he’ll want to find more playing time next season to make that move possible, so that will be the main factor on whether he’ll stay at Dhafra or return to Al-Ahly.
Written by Hassanin Humam