Iraqi player disappointed after English hopes dashed

BAGHDAD Sat Jan 26, 2008 7:22pm GMT

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Midfielder Nashat Akram said on Saturday he was disappointed his dreams of becoming the first Iraqi to play in the Premier League had been dashed by a government decision to deny him a work permit.

Premier League club Manchester City had hoped to sign Akram, who had been on trial with the club and attended training sessions with them, from Dubai's al-Ain.

But Akram vowed to use the Home Office decision as motivation to push Iraq, the surprise winners of last year's Asian Cup competition, to greater heights and qualify for the World Cup in 2010.

"It was my big dream to become the first Iraqi player to play in the English Premier League," the 21-year-old told Reuters by telephone from Dubai.

"I have the ambition to show the skills of Iraqi players in the strongest league in the world. I will prove that Iraqi players deserve to play in any league in the world," he said.

Iraq's Asian Cup triumph in July brought rare joy and unity to the shattered nation, with Shi'ites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds pouring into the streets to celebrate their team's unlikely 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the final in Jakarta.

Manchester City said on its Web site (www.mcfc.co.uk) that its appeal against an earlier Home Office decision to deny Akram a work permit had been rejected on Friday despite representations from the club and manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

No clear reason was given for the decision.

"This is a big blow and a great disappointment to us," Eriksson said in a statement.

"I have huge sympathy for Nashat. He is a very good footballer with an excellent pedigree," he said.

Akram said his main motivation now was to help Iraq qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Iraq play China in a World Cup qualifier next month.

"It's my duty and it's a debt I owe to the Iraqi soccer team and to my country," he said.

Eriksson said Manchester City would remain in touch with Akram despite the Home Office decision.

"He is somebody who we will maintain an interest in for the long term," Eriksson said.

(Writing by Paul Tait, editing by Clare Lovell)

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