MLS-bound Gabriel Somi: ‘Football means a lot to the Syrian people’

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Gabriel Somi, a Swedish-born defender who was last year called up to the Syrian national team is glad he has decided to join New England Revolution. (AP)
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Syria narrowly lost to Australia in the AFC World Cup 2018 playoff last year. (AP)
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Syria narrowly lost to Australia in the AFC World Cup 2018 playoff last year. (AP)
Updated 24 January 2018
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MLS-bound Gabriel Somi: ‘Football means a lot to the Syrian people’

LONDON: America’s Major League Soccer might not be the destination of choice for a lot of Syrian footballers, especially after Donald Trump’s ban on Syrians entering the US.
But Gabriel Somi, a Swedish-born defender who was last year called up to the Syrian national team and whose parents were both born in Syria, was not deterred and is glad he has decided to join New England Revolution.
“No, not at all,” he replied when Arab News asked if he was concerned about obtaining a visa and living in the US under Trump’s presidency.
Somi, 26, who is still in Sweden waiting for his visa application to be processed, has lived in the Scandinavian country his entire life after his parents, both Christians living in a majority Muslim country, decided to move to Sweden with their three daughters in 1989 in search of a better life for their children.
Despite growing up in Sweden, his parents made sure Somi, born in the town of Örebro in 1991, never forgot his true heritage.
“My parents raised me in that way, (that) you should never forget where you came from,” Somi said.
“OK, we left Syria, but you have Syrian blood. In my home I always had to speak my language, they tried to tell me to not speak Swedish at home.
“We have a lot of family at home (in Syria) and almost every year we went down on vacation to see them, but unfortunately the last seven or eight years there’s been the war so the situation hasn’t been good.
“But luckily for all of our family members it’s still okay in their areas.”
Having joined top flight club Östersunds FK in 2016, Somi quickly caught the attention of the Syrian national team and after an complicated process, was finally called up for his first camp for last year’s World Cup playoffs against Australia.

“It was a very proud moment in my career to get a call up, especially for the World Cup qualification,” Somi said.
“It was a long process to be honest, it took around eight months to fix everything, (but) my family, my parents and my cousins, everyone was so proud.”
Somi, however, did not make it off the bench and had to watch on as Syria came agonizingly close to a shock upset that would have seen them take on Honduras in a final playoff to make it to the Russian showpiece, a match Somi insisted they would have won.
“Of course (we were disappointed), we know as Syrians how much this would have meant for the whole country,” he revealed.
“To lose in that way, to be seconds from going through, that shot if it goes in I think we would go through to the World Cup, I think we would have beaten Honduras.”
Somi admitted the players took the defeat badly.
“It was a tough moment, everyone was crying in the locker room. It was a tough defeat, but in the end the whole of Syria was really proud at how far we came, and it was a huge achievement for the whole team, even though the country was in war but still to do so well it was something fantastic.”
While he would not be drawn on the politics involved in playing under the flag of the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, Somi said the football team was a force for good, a source of pride for Syrians all over the world.
“Even though there is the war the whole country was behind us,” he said.
“To be honest I don’t want to go into too much political stuff, I know the national team brings everyone together. The whole country was behind us.
“I got a picture from a family member in Damascus where there were thousands of people in the city watching and following the qualification. I know it meant a lot to all of the Syrian people all around the world.”

While the hurt from that loss still lingers, Somi’s immediate focus is getting over to the US and joining his new teammates at New England. After spending his whole career in Sweden he is looking forward to the change of scenery and different challenge offered by playing in MLS.
“I’m not 19 years old anymore, so I wanted to take this opportunity,” he explained.
“I’ve been playing in Sweden my whole life so I wanted to take this chance to try a new league and play abroad.
“I had a lot of clubs that were interested. I went to Hearts in Scotland and visited them, it was a fantastic club also, and I had a lot of top teams here in Sweden give me offers all well.
“But my goal was to go outside Sweden, to try something new and then New England came with an offer and I felt that this was the best offer for me.
“It’s financially very good, a great city and it’s an upcoming league, it’s growing a lot.
“(Football) is becoming really big in the US so it’s an offer I couldn’t say no to.”


Lewis Hamilton tells rivals ‘catch me if you can’

Updated 20 February 2019
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Lewis Hamilton tells rivals ‘catch me if you can’

  • Five-time world champion feeling confident of a sixth crown ahead of new season.
  • Pre-season testing going well in Barcelona.

BARCELONA: Lewis Hamilton has warned his rivals they had better get ready to catch his dust as he is feeling “better than ever” ahead of the season.
The 34-year-old Briton enjoyed a near flawless run to secure his fifth drivers’ title last year. He won 11 of the 21 races to beat Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel with two races to spare, and he expects the Italian marque to once again keep him on his toes.
“Ferrari are very strong,” Hamilton said in Barcelona on the third day of pre-season testing.
“It appears they have a better package than last year, which means it will be a bigger challenge for us.
“In the last few years, Ferrari has looked good from the very beginning so that’s to be expected.”
But he said it would be a mistake to draw any hard and fast conclusions from the evidence thrown up by testing.
“We’ll have a better idea I guess this time next week where we stand but still then we won’t know what fuel loads everybody is on and who is showing their cars and who isn’t.”
Hamilton, with a new two-year deal that will earn him £40 million ($52 million) a season, is buzzing after the winter recess.
“I feel in the best shape that I’ve been in,” he assured his fans, as he embarks on his quest for a sixth championship and record sixth consecutive constructors’ crown for Mercedes.
On a sixth title he shrugged: “I am not even focusing on that. It’s a new season, a new year, a new chapter and we have to approach like it’s our first.
“We’re going for number one, that’s how I approach it.
“But it’s not something that I allow my peers to talk about. It’s not what we are here for to focus on that number.”
He dismissed out of hand any notion of complacency setting in at his all-conquering team.
“We are always driven to do something new and to break boundaries and do stuff that no one else has done before but we are fully aware of the work that it will take to deliver something like that and it’s by no means like ‘yeah we are going for the sixth’ like it’s a relaxed thing.
“It’s not like that.”
Hamilton’s bid for title number six begins at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 17.