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From war-torn Syrian streets to being on the cusp of winning I-League: Journey of Aizawl FC's Mahmoud Amnah

The 34-year-old spoke about the situation back home in Aleppo and the prospects of winning a title with his current side.

Mahmoud Amnah (center) is a seasoned veteran, having played in leagues across the continent

With just two rounds remaining in the 2017 I-League campaign, the competition is all set for a nail-biting finish as Mohun Bagan and Aizawl FC square off later this week in a match that could decide which team will lift the trophy. Aizawl FC, who have enjoyed a Leicester City-esque run this season, can confirm the crown a matchday in advance if they can defeat the Mariners at home by a minimum two-goal margin.

Coach Khalid Jamil’s side have wowed fans over the course of the league with their quick passing and attacking style of play, which has seen them clinch ten wins in 16 games – a league high.  Much of the credit for the same goes to their midfield general from Syria, Mahmoud Amnah, who has made 14 league appearances for the Mizoram side this season and getting on the scoresheet twice as well.

The 34-year-old is a seasoned veteran, having played in leagues across the continent. He was born and brought up in Aleppo, a city which has been reeling under the effects of civil war for years now. He made his professional debut with local club Al-Hurriya in 2001 before securing a move to the country’s biggest club Al-Ittihad two years later, also setting a transfer fee record in the process.

He stayed in the city till 2011, but as the conflict moved closer and closer to home, he was forced to move his family and parents to Egypt, where his wife hails from. His sister continues to live in Aleppo as Amnah talks about the distressing situation, “For the last 4-5 years, it has been very hard. Often, there would be no electricity and sometimes I could hear bombs when I would call her. It was not safe at all.”

Aleppo is the second biggest city in Syria and a major cultural and economic centre as well, but years of war and conflict has seen various historic sites, such as the Citadel of Aleppo, turn into ruin. "Like many children, I grew up playing in the street and then you see the news. You see where you played and you think, 'I know this place, I know that place.'"

The city was recaptured by Bashar Al-Assad’s forces in December last year and life is returning to normalcy little by little, but Amnah is not looking to return anytime soon. “Life goes on,” adds Aizawl’s midfield general. “You cannot do anything about these things. You just have to go on doing your job.”

After a six-year stint with Al-Ittihad, which included a league and cup double in 2004, Amnah moved to Rah Ahan Yazdan FC, a Tehran-based club in 2009. Three years later, he was on the move again, transferring to Sulaymaniyah FC in Iraq, which was to be followed by a couple of seasons in the Malaysian Super League with Sime Darby FC.

In 2015, he took his I-League bow with Sporting Goa FC, where he spent almost two years and made 19 league appearances. He is satisfied with his time at the Fatorda Stadium, as he said, “Sporting was my gateway to enter Indian football. I played there for a season-and-a-half and I think they were successful to some extent.

“When I joined, the team was in last place and we then finished the season at eighth. In the second season, we achieved fourth place,” he added. “The people are good there and fairly professional. I have many friends from my time there and I really cherish this experience.”

Amnah admitted that playing at Aizawl is a whole new experience altogether

He was asked for his thoughts on the level of Indian football in comparison to the leagues he has featured in and the Syrian feels that the last few years have seen growth in the overall level of play and he also credited the Indian Super League (ISL) for the same.

“I feel that there has been an increase, especially in the technical aspect, as the Indian players got to interact with high-level coaches in the ISL. I expect to see more progress in the future,” said Amnah.

At the start of the year, he joined Aizawl FC, a team with a shoestring budget that had just been reinstated to the top division. They have enjoyed a remarkable season so far, tied at the top with Mohun Bagan, and Amnah is thrilled with the whole experience.

“Things are excellent. The team is young and our wonderful coach utilizes the players' abilities well. The players have the hunger to play football and win matches, and the club management is also trying their best to help the team.”

He also admitted that playing at the club is a whole new experience altogether and he hopes to win the league for the fans. “Off the pitch, people here are really wonderful and encourage the team. But life is different for me, as this is the first time I am living in the mountains! I hope to win the championship and make the people here happy,” he said.

Mahmoud Amnah has played 82 times for his national team and for some of the biggest clubs in Asia, in a career, that has spanned over a decade-and-a-half. Khalid Jamil will be looking to make the most of his experience against the Mariners, as the two teams face off come Saturday.

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