A Syrian footballer's rocky road to success in Germany
Mahmoud Dahoud is the first Syrian footballer to play in the Bundesliga
Situated on the Turkish-Syrian border, the town of Amuda has had rare moments of positivity since overthrowing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime.
While the Syrian conflict rages just a few hundred kilometres to the south, Amuda has been generally unscathed with a predominant Kurdish population. Back in 1996, life was somewhat different, the oppression under Assad forcing thousands to leave, including the Dahoud family with ten-month-old Mahmoud.
The first Syrian footballer to play in the Bundesliga, Mahmoud's successful rise to prominence at Borussia Mönchengladbach is a powerful symbol amid a perpetually increasing number of Syrian refugees arriving in Germany. As the country accommodates around 200,000 refugees, Dahoud's story might be idealistic in its nature, but one which offers hope and opportunity to those similarly displaced by conflict.
'A future world star'
Dahoud was snapped up from Fortuna Düsseldorf at the age of 17 and was immediately regarded as an exceptional talent at the Gladbach academy. The teenager was given the opportunity to train with the first-team as early as 2013, but seemed unable to make inroads under former head coach Lucien Favre. Christoph Kramer had arrived on the scene, on loan from Bayer Leverkusen, and he would go on to excel under Favre and feature in a World Cup final.
But Gladbach's impromptu collapse was arguably invoked by Kramer's return to Leverkusen over the summer. Following five straight league defeats, Favre resigned in spite of Gladbach's full support. Andre Schubert was promoted hastily from the U23 squad with the remit of stabilizing the tradition-laden club that languished worryingly at the bottom of the division. If the demise of Hamburg and others has shown, tradition counts for nothing.
Confident, composed and a master of words – he is a student of the German language – Schubert now has the Foals competing for a place in next season's Champions League. Pivotal to the upturn in performances is Dahoud who marked his league debut with a goal in the 4-2 win over Augsburg which kicked off Schubert's run of six consecutive Bundesliga victories.
Scoring one and setting up two, Dahoud's performance in the 5-1 trouncing of Eintracht Frankfurt was of the kind that made his name reverberate around social media. But Schubert, with his background in youth development, has tempered any overzealous streak in the highly-talented youngster. Instead his measured words of confidence has only brought out the artistry in Dahoud's well-refined passing game.
“He has shown here what kind of potential he has,” said Lothar Matthäus, the former captain of the Germany national team.“We all know that Gladbach brings through talents who could go on to be world stars.” His performances in the recent Champions League encounters have been equally impressive with Juventus continuing to keep tabs on the midfielder.
An outsider for Euro 2016 or the Olympics?
A brilliant mix of intelligence, craft and magic, Dahoud has been the perfect complement to Granit Xhaka in the heart of Gladbach's midfield. With Schubert honing an advanced 4-1-4-1 shape, Dahoud is essential to establishing a quick transition from defence-to-attack. He's a quick-thinker, acts on instinct and can zip a long-pass to set the counterattacks on its way.
Already an U20 international for Germany, he could be line to feature in Germany's first-ever Olympic football team, which will head to Brazil next summer. However, that could impact on appearances in Champions League qualification, should Gladbach finish fourth in the Bundesliga. Dahoud's talents and character has grown on Germany boss Joachim Löw and a late shot at finding a place in the Euro 2016 squad isn't out of the picture.
The Löw era has done wonders for Germany's international image and its own identity. The 2010 World Cup was the first sign of the country's multiculturalism, followed up by the 2014 triumph. If Dahoud can eventually pull on Germany's national colours at the highest level, it would be another positive symbol for sport in the country.