Published: 18th of February 2016
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.”