Ramadan is fast approaching and for professional sportspersons of Muslim faith, daily fasting from dawn to dusk during the Holy Month can pose an added challenge when it comes to their diet and training routine. SFME’s Scott Grayston sat down to discuss the issue with UAE football veteran Abdulla Salem who has played for some of the biggest clubs in the country such as Al Ahli and Al Wahda and is still, at 34, going strong, plying his trade for Sharjah FC. The experienced defender shared his insights on coping with training during Ramadan.
Abdulla Salem: By spending some time with my kids inside the house. I focus on bringing the family together and getting some rest at home.
Abdulla Salem: Sometimes. And it is always fun when we do catch up for Iftar together.
Abdulla Salem: One of the fundamentals of being an athlete is being disciplined which helps me significantly during Ramadan.
Abdulla Salem: I do not go out to restaurants and overeat at night.
Abdulla Salem: To leave a 10-minute break for your stomach to start working before starting on the main meal and to eat normal portion sizes at Iftar.
Abdulla Salem: I ensure I take in nutritious food which provides a good source of lean protein, such as grilled fish or chicken, low-glycemic carbohydrates, such as brown rice or boiled sweet potatoes, and vegetables, raw or cooked, with a little oil.
Abdulla Salem: Nothing in particular. I just ensure I always eat in moderation.
Abdulla Salem: Suhur, the pre-dawn meal, is essential, as this will give me the energy I need for my daily activities while fasting.
Abdulla Salem: By drinking water between my meals and drinking small quantities throughout the Ramadan nights. In addition to water, I drink fresh fruit or vegetable juices rather than sweetened ones.
Abdulla Salem: To consume normal portions of nutritious food including bread, milk, fish, meat, vegetables, and fruits.
Abdulla Salem: I perform light exercise to burn off excess calories after fasting to maintain my energy level.
Abdulla Salem: When I feel sluggish, I shut my eyes for 15-20 minutes to re-energise my system.
Life After Football speaks to Abdulla Ahmad Salem about personal grooming and commitment to achievement beyond the touchline.
Perched in his off-white, slim fit, casual two piece suit, the lapels on his jacket seem almost aligned with this urbane and slim athlete’s sinewy torso. Abdulla Salem, 29, one of the top players at Al Ahli Football Club, wears an initially stoic expression that easily morphs into an ice-breaking, pearly smile on first meeting him in the eastern styled tea room reception of the Al Qasr Hotel at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai. At ease and relaxed, he has just come off the proverbial runway of instant mobile messages and hushed telephone calls.
The action slows down and we exit from the bustling bazaar-style crowds of the airy, tea-room style hotel hall complex where people are dining and cutting deals. Abdulla just completed a one-off camera shoot and is now about to download quietly. We escape down a coolly aired corridor with wall to wall offerings of the best personal accoutrements a man could want from well styled cufflinks to crafted pukka-styled pocket books from another age. All ensconced in fine cabinetry. Walking down the corridor you can’t help but gaze at these items they await your arrival, gazing eyes and a desire to distinguish yourself with that special something that says everything about you.
Abdulla wants that something. He could be considered to be nearing the prime of his sporting career. He has achieved much in his sporting life and been fated for his achievements in the footballing fiefdom of the United Arab Emirates. Abdulla Ahmad Salem is grateful for the gifts he has been given. At round six feet and 3 inches tall, this Al Ahli player sits upright with his legs sprawl beneath the coffee table that is adorned with crisp white cups filled with steaming coffee. He doesn’t need it. His attention is fixed on the opportunity his life in sport offers. His two young children and wife have whetted his appetite for life and personal achievement. However, it was not always this way. A Dubai native, born and raised in the emirate, he confesses that school held few jewels for him. He describes himself as a disinterested and mercurial student, in as much that he moved around several different schools, while family members who had attended these same school institutions before him had faired better by his own admission. He simply was not interested in school.
A younger Abdulla’s turning point came after witnessing his father’s anger for the first time in his life. He was given the chance to attend a local club. He initially attended and later began to falter in his attendance of school and the club. Abdulla loves football but began to not go to the club or school. “What do you do?” he emits, in his father’s castigating tone. “My father sat down with me and let me know that I was a loser, since you choose for neither and you do not have a clear direction,” he recalls excitedly with a rye smile. The experience was strong and memorable enough to drive him towards a sporting life, where his passion could enable him to make his move into life, while achieving personal growth. But always remember: Abdulla wants more.
Personal challenge was always a part of this footballer’s life, prior to reaching the apex of the national football for the United Arab Emirates at Olympic and international levels. Belying his gazelle-like frame is a spirit that goes beyond the strength required to ride a tackle or two on the pitch. Abdulla believes he has purpose beyond the beautiful. His spirit is indomitable. When he sustained a horrific injury during a game from a tackle that left him with metal rod in upper leg, the ability for him to return to play post injury was talked about behind his back, but not addressed directly to his face, according to the player. He graciously strokes both legs while speaking. Such injuries often are career ending events for players with less spirit. “The German sports doctor that treated me told me that he did not expect me to play for some time. I don’t think he expected me to play at all. I told him on the treatment table that I would be back in six months.” Abdulla traveled far and wide to undergo extensive surgery and treatment after initially seeking counsel and treatment in the UAE. Abdulla confounded all players, coaches, physiotherapists and family to return to the game he loves, exactly as he promised his German doctor.
Abdulla’s mature and resolve-driven outlook has driven him to believe in the power of his experience on and off the playing field. His passion for fashion and grooming is evident from first observing him during his round of photo shots on location in Al Qasr Hotel. The camera not only seems to create a symbiotic relationship between camera and subject, but Abdulla seems quietly comfortable to reveal his desire for developing his nascent and ongoing interest in modeling. Whilst modeling was suggested to him on a few occasions he never really thought anything of it. Now he is ready to re-examining that vision.
“Sometimes I get the opportunity to relax away from the football field on the weekend. I’ll contact a friend in the morning and we will go down to the salon to get a hair cut, catch up and use the chance to get my hands, nails and feet done. This is something I like to do since it not only allows me to relax away from the game, but allow me to share my outfit ideas with my wife”, he reveals. He recounts, “I love solid black and some times have a nice outfit. I will then get some pink socks or something – yeah, you know!” That just does it, right! Abdulla confesses his love for socks from a well-known British designer. You realize how the regal and elegant Kandoura, though beloved, does not adequately contain the personality of this young Emirati. This peek-a-boo style is a playful, understated and distinguishing side of the player. His wife supports his passion by sharing these shopping trips with him whereby he can indulge his passion and she can share in his goal on the boardwalks of some the world’s best known shopping destinations. “My wife once surprised me by sending me away for a few hours and I returned home to her dressed in a customized suit!” he exclaims. This fun expect of his passion extend to his daily personal appearance. Although immaculately dressed, Abdulla believes that being well turned out is simply a reflection of how you feel inside. He gesticulates with his hands towards himself, revealing well creamed hands that glisten in streaming sunlight entering the room.
His otherwise angular face is trimmed by a low-kept beard and moustache. The crown of his head reveals a strongly accentuated wave- a hairstyle framing his Moorish face by the low-faded side burns and beard. “I do not use a razor because it irritates me badly – too many bumps. I am really looking at the laser in the future to see how that goes. I wear a beard and moustache all year round and it is important that I keep it neat. But I am definitely not one for the crazy circles and shapes that are being worn these days,’ he insists. “It’s definitely not me! I like the gentleman – classic style.”
Abdulla deeply believes that his time on the playing field has been a blessed one, but he looks towards the future with excitement. “I would like to play football internationally because it would give me strong exposure and experience in the game and at possibly a higher level. I would not only become a better player than I am now, but I would be exposed to some lifestyle choices that are different while playing football for a living.” This man does not lack vision for himself and his family. Currently engaged in a number real estate ventures he is keen to move ahead to his next phase. A keen reader of self development material, he believes that his love of lifestyle and fashion will take him into areas of personal interest where he will be able to examine and test his mettle in business. In his real estate venture he has learned valuable and what it truly takes to be a success. Abdulla sees a business life beckoning after his footballing days and rejects the tendency to be undyingly connected to the game. “Some of my friends, who are players want to coach, become trainers or agents. But, for me, I prefer business. Business, like football will allow me to be able to create and help my family”. While no member of his family is active in business Abdulla Salem looks like the one who has broken the mould, will break the mould and push always push for something new, no matter what.
Abdulla Ahmad Salem is one of the star players at Al Ahli Football Club. He bashfully admits he has been approached a number of times about modeling and you can see the wonder in his eyes. With a keen interest in fashion and personal styling and a six feet body frame, we talk to Abdulla about striking a pose and making the right impression off the field.
Abdulla Salem: My weekend grooming routine is about being able to relax and have a nice hair cut at my hairdresser, if I am not with my children and wife. I’ll either find a friend to go with and share the experience and catch up, or I’ll just chill out on my own. I am always looking at different styles. Right now it’s about a clean back and sides with a fade reaching into a low trim beard. I take a massage when I can and that helps a lot as we work hard during the week at camp!
Abdulla Salem: My facial hair is very limited. I like to wear a low trimmed beard through the year. I have tried a moustache but I know that this is not for me! I definitely am not one for making patterns in my hair or anything like that. It’s not me. I prefer a gentleman’s classic look and style – this is me! I only use a machine for shaving as I cannot take the razor blade. It gives me too many problems after a few days, but I have not yet had the opportunity to use the laser treatment. I hear it’s good, stops irritation and bumps. I’ll definitely get there. I hear good things about that. He laughs. It would be great not having to shave for a few months and still keep a nice clean look.
Abdulla Salem: I myself like to use a scented cream for my body so when I sweat during training or a game I smell pleasant. I wear different after shaves depending what I find in the latest men’s magazine I am reading, my scent preference and how I feel.
Abdulla Salem: My personal appearance is very important to me and this goes with my interest in fashion, clothes and style. I share this with my wife when we shop together. My wife and I share ideas here and she can see my passion for these things. On weekends, we look at personal and grooming accessories together and I make suggestions for outfits that I am planning to wear. I think she’s sometimes surprised with my choices – I love this!! I like Paul Smith socks and I have a few crazy pairs of his socks in crazy colours!