The start was as hard as iron. But Hadiya Hakeem overcame every hindrance with courage and hard work until she became the captain of Team Asia in the inaugural edition of FIFA International Influencers Cup held in Qatar.
Hadiya, the 20 year old girl from Mukkam, a small town in Southern Indian state of Kerala has been on a dream run with her stunning freestyle football skills, breaking the barriers of space and self.
With her family’s passion for football, Hadiya is no stranger to the sport in her native Kerala. Her father, Abdul Hakeem, is a former football star featured in the local sevens tournaments. Since her childhood, Hadiya has been crazy about football. As a die-hard fan of Real Madrid, she watched European football matches while joining her brothers in playing.
She learned the ‘Beautiful Game’ from her brothers when she was a child in Qatar as she went down with them to see how they play. Before her family’s relocation to Chendamangallur, she was an active football team member at her previous school in Qatar.
After returning to her homeland, she found fewer opportunities to go further with her passion but never stopped working towards her dream. During her free time, she practised as a freestyle footballer.
“Our school did not have a football team for girls. And I was not in a position to attend football academies away from home. But I never stopped bonding with the ball as I practised freestyle indoors,” Hadiya told Footy Times.
“I was keen to play football, but girls here had no opportunity. There is not even a girl’s football team here. So, I wished to make use of the interval of the school tournament and exhibit my skill,” She opened up about her formal entry into the field which gave her instant fandom.
Hadiya approached her school authorities to show her skills during an annual football tournament featuring only boys, and they agreed.
The crowd gathered was surprised by her stunning performance. She juggled the ball without touching the ground like a professional footballer. The same footage became an instant hit on social media, and the girl became a celebrity overnight.
“She has given goosebumps to all of us. Hadiya is a big motivation for not only students but also teachers,” said Saleem N K, Hadiya’s teacher.
She intensely believed in her work; from the day she started to touch football with her feet, the whole family, friends, and even school authorities were there for the great victory.
“After realising the scope of freestyle, I wanted to excel in that and be known as a great freestyler. Freestyle is a different area with different cultures and communities; it doesn’t need a team or training facility. We could do it in our homes. So obviously, it was an easier choice for me.
FIFA Influencers Cup was a massive opportunity for Hadiya to showcase her talent to a big international audience. The tournament, which took place on March 29 at Stadium 974, was organised by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy with cooperation from Qatar Airways and Qatar Tourism to herald upcoming major events leading up to the FIFA World Cup.
The influencers received training alongside a number of Qatar Legacy Ambassadors, including Cafu, Ahmed Khalil, Tim Cahill, Mubarak Mustafa, Khalid Salman, Ronald de Boer, and Ali al-Habsi.
Hadiya was given the captain’s armband of Team Asia. Her side lost 4-1 against Team Americas, led by Brazil’s World Cup-winning captain Cafu.
Australian legend Tim Cahill was also part of the Asian side. Team MENA, captained by Omani star Ali al-Habsi and Team Europe were the other two teams competed.
“I still can’t believe that I got the opportunity to lead a team featuring prominent free-stylers and football legends. I was the only girl on the side and coach Cahill made me the captain. They all were highly supportive and encouraging” said Hadiya, whose light moments of training with Cahill and Manchester City legend Yaya Toure went viral on Instagram.
Currently a degree student at MES, Mampad, Hadiya shared her feelings of being noticed as a hijabi sportswoman.
“I think that the hijab is a factor for the unprecedented recognition I get here and abroad and I’m proud of that it is my identity. But on the other hand, I don’t find it as a distinguishing thing and I just want to be known as a free style footballer”
To embark on the journey toward your goals and dreams require bravery. To remain on the path requires courage, the bridge that merges the two is a commitment.
The credits for all the images used in this story go to Hadiya Hakeem Instagram.