Soccer player

The Italian adventures of an Uzbek footballer make dreams come true in his country

Khadicha Shomurodova still couldn’t hide her excitement when Eurasianet joined her.

August 18 marked his birthday and his footballing grandson Eldor Shomurodov scored for Italy’s Roma against Turks’ Trabozonspor in a UEFA Europa Conference League qualifier. It was the first goal Shomurodov had scored for Roma in a competitive meeting since signing in early August.

Post-match scorer talks are usually tedious, as players repeat old lines such as the importance of working as a team. Shomurodov, 26, speaking in his still hesitant Italian, broke that mold and told the interviewer that the goal was a birthday present to his beloved grandmother.

“I was so excited, I cried with happiness. I couldn’t hear a grandson’s words, it was a familiar indigenous voice,” she told Eurasianet.

His thoughts were then seized by the worry of a grandmother.

“I barely had time to say, ‘Thank you Eldor,’ before adding, ‘You’ve fallen a few times, I hope you are all right.’ It hurts when I see the players fall to the ground. When Eldor falls, I whisper to myself, ‘Get up, my boy, get up,’ ”Khadicha said.

Khadicha is the matriarch of a footballing family, so she has long since lost count of how many games she has watched in her lifetime. But the games Eldor plays are something special. He is the first of the Shomurodovs – and one of the few Uzbeks – to break into top European football.

His concerns about injuries are rooted in a good cause.

Khadisha’s son and Eldor’s father, Azamat Shomurodov, played for Surkhon, a local team from the Surkhandaryo region in southern Uzbekistan in the 1990s. a competitive match, he was forced into retirement.

With his ambitions in tatters, Azamat devoted his energies to ensuring that one of his sons fulfills the dream of breaking into professional football leagues.

His eldest son Sanjar, now 40, played for Kashkadarya region FC Shurtan Guzar from 2008 to 2013. But that career was also cut short.

“In 2013, during training, I had a sprained tendon. I had to do four years of treatment. In 2017, I returned to competitive football playing for Surkhon Termez. But I only played another year before I had to quit, ”Sanjar told Eurasianet.

Sanjar is now the head of the football federation of Surkhandaryo region. He does not hide that his pride for his brother is tinged with a certain professional jealousy.

“I sincerely envy my brother Eldor. But at least one of us broke into European football! It was our dream and our family ambition, ”he told Eurasianet.

Eldor, who is 14 years younger than Sanjar, was sent to Mashal Football Academy, about 300 kilometers from his hometown of Jarkurgan, when he was 11.

Jarkurgan is a small town of about 20,000 people about 70 kilometers from the border with Afghanistan. Summers are extremely hot – temperatures can reach around 50 degrees Celsius. A textile factory processing cotton grown in abundance in the region is an important source of employment.

But it all took second place compared to the things that really matter to Jarkurgan today: AS Roma, the team’s Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho, and Eldor himself.

The last time Eldor was back in town was in July. Unsurprisingly, with appearances in Italian Serie A club Genoa, Russian Rostov and Uzbekistan Bunyodkor already to his credit, he was, as always, welcomed as a major celebrity. Children lined up in droves to take selfies and get autographs from the local hero. The Shomurodov family house is a generally unremarkable one-story building. Such is Eldor’s reputation today, however, that even when he’s not around, the doors of the house are open from morning till night as well-wishers arrive to pay their respects.

“Eldor told me that there was a lot in common between Italians and Uzbeks. It turns out Italians love loud family gatherings too, and like Uzbeks, they love their national cuisine, ”Khadicha told Eurasianet. “He named several Italian dishes, but I can’t remember their names.”

When Eldor returns to Uzbekistan, one of his first stops is an orphanage in Termez, the region’s capital.

“The [at the orphanage], they are still waiting for it. He brings gifts and financial support. In addition, we organize masterclasses at the Termez stadium, where up to 300 young footballers and Eldor fans come together, ”said Sanjar.

Eldor’s success in becoming top football in one of Europe’s most important national leagues has generated a new wave of ambition among young Uzbek players. Thousands of children apply to enter football academies every year. The financial returns, even inside Uzbekistan, make the appeal obvious.

For the first time, the first club in Uzbekistan, Pakhtakor, in June published details of players ‘and coaches’ income. The players, the club revealed, receive annual salaries of around $ 15,000. But that’s nothing compared to the $ 100,000 they get in performance bonuses.

The next most common step is to sign for a team in Russia or China, where earnings are significantly higher.

Of course, when players succeed and land on foreign shores, they have to master entirely new languages. Khadicha admits her grandson struggled on this front in Italy, but she pleaded for her manager to be patient.

“After the game against Trabzonspor, Eldor said he had communication problems with coach Mourinho as he still didn’t know the Italian very well. I dream that my grandson will learn the language faster. And I want to tell José Mourinho that my Eldor will learn Italian, so don’t scold him too much just yet, ”she said.