The 21-year-old from the Baghdad district of Adhammiya is a long way from home (2,933 km from the Iraqi capital to be exact) and in the serene surroundings of the open air Dolomiten Stadion at a pre-season friendly with German side FC Ingolstadt 04 in the Austrian town of Lienz, Ali Adnan made his entrance as ‘the first Iraqi in Italy’s Calcio’.
No die-hard Iraqi fan wanted to miss his long awaited debut with thousands tuned into the Italian club’s own channel for a glimpse of the Iraqi defender in his new club colours. The player even had a small band of Iraqi fans – flying the national flag – who found themselves in the Austrian mountains in the town of Lienz cheering him on, in his first game since his move to Italy, constantly heard shouting words of support such as “Come on Abu Hussein,” as he made his way down the left flank throughout his opening first half appearance.
Ali Adnan appeared in the unaccustomed yellow of Udinese for the first time – in the No.4 that he made his name in his first steps in the Iraqi league with Nadi Baghdad – but he certainly didn’t look out of place, in a starting line-up which featured club captain Antonio “Totò” Di Natale and Brazilians Danilo and Edenilson and the Iraqi had a few moments in his 45 minutes that will give encouragement to both his new coach and the Udinese ultras for the coming season.
As widely circulated even before to his arrival in Udine, Ali Adnan will play on the left of the new coach’s 3-5-2 formation, a position that the Iraqi is familiar with and one that will get the best out of him, with his praised attacking qualities, often robust and enthusiastic in his marauding runs down the left, far outstretching his somewhat weaker defensive abilities. This position gets the best out of Ali Adnan.
Udinese had a decent first half, creating three chances, with Ali Adnan a key protagonist in those opportunities on the goal of the Bundesliga’s newcomers FC Ingolstadt.
In the 21st minute the Udinese crowd got their first sight of one of the Iraqi’s main traits, his crossing, when his left wing ball found its target but Udinese attacker Cyril Théréau headed high and over the bar. Then thirteen minutes later from almost the exact position out on the left – with a slight suspicion of handball after controlling the ball – Ali laced his cultured left foot around the ball which once again found its target in the penalty box but the same forward was unable to take advantage of the knocked down ball from the head of “Totò” Di Natale.
In the 44th minute Ali Adnan received the biggest cheer of the game when his captain Di Natale back heeled the ball to the player positioned on the left of the goal but his effort, without any real power or venom behind it, was easily collected by FC Ingolstadt’s Norwegian goalkeeper Ørjan Nyland. Moments later the referee blew the whistle to end the first half – some 25 seconds early – and it sounded the end of Ali Adnan’s first appearance for Udinese.
It appears that the Udinese allenatore Stefano Colantuono will use Ali Adnan as a left wing back in a 3-5-2 – which were the early reports that were coming out from both the Italian media and Udinese’s sports director Cristiano Giarretta. Ali Adnan will play as a terzino d’ala or terzino fluidificante, a wing back or overlapping full back.
Ali playing his first pre-season game, after missing the Italian’s opening friendly with Schalke 04 after he suffered a slight muscle strain in training before the match in Klagenfurt, seemed fairly comfortable out on the left. Though the Iraqi did look a slight flat footed (when in defensive positions) and a tad slow, a concern with the player weighing 83 kilograms (something he claims is normal for him) but is obviously carrying a little extra weight, however it is still early days in the Friuli outfit’s pre-season training and Ali Adnan will certainly be in better shape once the new Serie A season kicks off in late August.
From the first observations of his first game in Lienz of the position Ali Adnan has been asked to play, it looks like the people at Udinese and the new coach see that they can get the best out of Ali Adnan by playing him in the same place he thrived in at the 2013 World Youth Cup for the Iraqi shabab but that overlapping left wing back position is one that will need a fit Ali Adnan. There is still a question mark on whether he can handle the vastly tactical and defensive game of the Italian Serie A, compared to the type of football, he was playing in the Iraqi league or last season with Rizespor in Turkey. It is only his first game, a first forty-five minutes but the Iraqi left back is making gradual progress with Udinese
In the second half, for the people who had their vision of the game obscured by the large white and black Udinese flags, Ali Adnan didn’t come out for the second forty-five as Colantuono changed the complete starting eleven but the Bianconeri fans and the player would be happy with his first display in the unfamiliar yellow of Udinese.