At the age of seven, Zain Lateef (19) escaped his home country Iraq because of the war. After suffering a lot, he managed with little to come to the United States with his father and brother. Today he has a dream that’s worth much more than his sleep: becoming a professional soccer player one day.
It all started when Zain escaped to Jordan as a little boy and saw the Iraqi national team win the Asia cup. “It brought a lot of happiness to my country. At that moment it felt right to me and I remember telling my dad I will bring that cup home someday”, he says.
Football has helped him get through a lot of tough moments and changed his life in many ways. He hopes to take the Iraqi national team to the World Cup some day and wants to bring another Asia Cup home.
With his end goal in mind, Zain knew it was going to be a tough road. “A scout from FC Bayern Munich saw me playing and was interested in my skills. He sent me out to New York, where I stayed alone, and I had to compete with other top players. It was difficult, but with that step everything started.”
When many people started doubting Zain, he wanted to prove them wrong. His father was his biggest inspiration and motivation. “He believed in me when no one else did and went through a lot. My dad literally saved my life: he had to pick up a bomb and move it from the door to save me and my brother. For this, I have much respect and honor for him. He wants me to become a professional player and that is exactly what I am going to give him in return.”
He loves his family and friends, but to some of them Zain is ‘just a failure’, he says. “Sad to say, but friends and family will be the first to talk you out of it. Some of my close friends think football isn’t for me and I shouldn’t be playing, but I went through a lot to give up and let this go. The only people who helped me where my coaches and my dad, they have stayed by my side and didn’t give up on me at my worst moments.”
Making sacrifices and taking risks is a huge part of an athlete, Zain believes. “I dropped out of school when I was 15 and I had to let go of a lot of people. I trained and worked as a janitor at the same time. [A janitor is someone who cleans bathrooms, toilets, and anything.] I knew my end goal was going to be good, so I stayed focused.”
Zain was invited to the Real Madrid Camp when he was 17. He had to show his skills at the Camp and was good enough, so they gave him a signed diploma and let him into the Real Madrid Academy to play with the Under-18 team. While playing there in the Academy, he had to live alone in Spain. That was difficult, because he needed an investment for his dream. “Luckily, I had my dad who helped me out. He would send me money every week and I would go grocery shopping every Sunday to last for the whole week.”
He is most grateful for the people that keep him in check whenever he slips, such as his dad and good friend Alessandro Riggi, a football player of Phoenix Rising FC. “Alessandro has a big impact on my life. I had his poster in my room until I met him, and we started training together. He wants the best for me, gives me the advice I need and lets me know when I’m wrong.”
“I am also grateful that I got to play against big clubs like Juventus FC, Atlético Madrid, and Getafe CF, while I was playing at Real Madrid Academy and FC Diablitos. Getting my Under-19 Iraq national team call up, meant the world to me and I can’t thank God enough, but unfortunately, I couldn’t go, because I got injured”, he says while pointing at his knee.
He turns 20 in January 2020 and tells that if he’s still good enough, they will raise him up to play with the Under-20 National team of Iraq. “You can expect me to sign with a big club this year and play with the Under-20.”
Playing for and against such big teams and getting his call up for his national team, gave him a lot of confidence and those are huge accomplishments for him and his family, he explains. It is also the main reason how he is able to hold on to believing in himself. Even though his friends and family mostly talked him out of football, he never gave up on himself and his dream. He believes that everything will be put in place soon.
BODY & BALANCE
Zain keeps his body fit by working hard, eating right and training like his life depends on it, he says. Sometimes he finds it hard to work on his mind. “It is the most difficult thing to control. I always try to keep the negative stuff out and focus on the next. Obstacles will be ahead, but I know I can get through it.”
He keeps his life in balance by just focusing on his training and nothing else. He trains twice a day and whenever he is free, he usually watches soccer games or hangs out with some friends.
The advice Zain would like to give you? “Picking up a dream isn’t easy, you need the will to go battle the hardship that comes with it. Don’t give up, because it’s all worth it at the end.”