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Al-Hamadi: Wimbledon Boss Jackson Got the Best Out of Me
Friday, 23rd Feb 2024 20:48

Town boss Kieran McKenna has made a huge impression on recent recruit Ali Al-Hamadi but the Iraqi international has praised the part that the manager he left behind, Wimbledon’s Johnnie Jackson, has played in his recent rapid rise.

“He’s a really good guy,” the Iraqi-born striker who moved from Wycombe to Wimbledon in January last year said of Jackson, coincidentally a teammate of his Ipswich boss McKenna at Tottenham.

“He’s a different type of manager with a different approach to the game but he was just great at getting the best out of me, giving me the belief and the confidence to just go and do what I do best.

“From the moment I walked into Wimbledon to the day I left, he filled me with confidence and belief, and with the trust he placed in me it unlocked all my potential. I could sit here and talk about Johnnie all day because he’s been such a big part of my career already.

“At such an important stage of my career I just needed somebody to give me my chance and to trust me because I was raring to go. He was the one who gave me the opportunity and I will always be grateful to him.

“I was a bit sad to leave at such a crucial point in the season for Wimbledon but he’s been a player himself and he understood this was something I couldn’t pass up. He was brilliant with me and I still text him and will always stay in touch.”

Apart from climbing out of League Two and into the Championship, to a point where top-flight football next season is a strong possibility, Al-Hamadi has also established himself in the Iraq national squad and he was asked about his goal against Elkan Baggott’s Indonesia in a World Cup qualifier in November last year.

He said: “I won’t forget that one. It was an amazing moment for me and my family. It was our first home World Cup qualifier in more than a decade or two, so it was a really nice moment.

“It’s one of those moments you dream about growing up, scoring for your country in a packed-out stadium with people watching and your family watching. It was a really good moment and hopefully, there are many more to come.”

Town defender Baggott probably won’t forget it either and Al-Hamadi added: “I actually ran off his shoulder to score, we spoke about that the other day!

“I played against him in that game and we played against Indonesia in the group stages at the Asian Cup, so I played against him in that as well.

“It’s good to have that international experience because I think it gives you a different edge, I think. It’s good to have a few players here with that element to them.”

Asked about his rapid progress – he was still on international duty when the deal to join Town was completed – Al-Hamadi continued: “I had an eight-hour flight back from the Asian Cup and that was a lot of time to myself, so I was thinking about how it had been a mental year or two for me.

“It was a powerful moment for me to reflect on all that had happened and at the same time to look ahead to what else I wanted to achieve.

“At the moment there are so many games, so many things to focus on for everyone and I’m sure there will be a time for more reflection in the summer when we’re in the Premier League. But for now, it’s just focus and head down.”

The player’s appearances off the bench have been enough to convince supporters of his worth and the feeling is clearly mutual, Al-Hamadi adding: “I think it’s a very important thing in football nowadays to have a connection with the fans.

“I’ve always had it at the clubs where I have been because I wear my heart on my sleeve and hopefully, they can see what it means to me to be representing the club every time I’m on the pitch.

“I never take anything for granted so it’s been great to see and feel the energy from the fans every time I’ve been involved.

“I’m quite an emotional person and I think the supporters tend to like that because you’re showing a bit of passion and a connection with them on a human level, rather than just being a footballer who steps out on the pitch and does his job. It’s been really nice.

“Some of the boys even said they couldn’t believe I had my own chant already. It has been amazing and I probably couldn’t have wished for a better start to life here.

“It feels like I’ve been here longer than just a few weeks. I’m quite a confident person and I’ve always been like that. I’ll fit in anywhere I go.

“The boys have been great with me and it helps that I already knew Sam [Morsy], so he’s been taking me under his wing a bit and keeping me up to speed with some of the things. It’s stuff like what I should and shouldn’t wear on match days, reminding me about standards.”

Asked whether he believes Morsy sees something of his younger self in Al-Hamadi, the striker said: “He probably does, to be fair. He keeps me on my toes and pushed me in every way he can. We get along really well, though, and he is one of my good mates now.

“Hopefully I can keep that relationship going and keep learning from him because he really is top in terms of the way he operates day-to-day, trains and keeps the standards high. He has great attention to detail off the pitch as well and he’s very professional.

“He sleeps well, eats well – all the stuff you’d expect of a top professional nowadays. I think he’s been one of the best players in the league this season to be honest. It’s great having him as our leader and captain, and all the players respect him. He brings a lot to the team.

“But it’s not just Sam. Some of the other lads like Chappers [Conor Chaplin] and Kieffer have been helping me as well. Everyone has been great in making it easy for me to transition and settle in. That goes for the coaching staff too; everybody has helped to make it pretty fair sailing.”

Asked what he sees as his best position, having operated in a wide role at Wimbledon on occasion, Al-Hamadi added: “I’ve always been a striker. At Wimbledon I played up front with another guy similar to Kieffer. He was good at the hold-up play and probably a bit bigger in stature. I played off him and did it that way.

“But when I was younger and still learning at Swansea I often played as a striker on my own. I’ve done quite a variety of things in the short career I’ve had and I’m not really fussed where I play. I can score goals and I can get into the box and make things happen, and I’m happy to play anywhere.”

Up until now Town have started Moore and kept Al-Hamadi in reserve, but the latter believes they could form a lethal partnership if the opportunity should arise. He said: “That’s not something that I can control – it’s up to the manager and how he sees the games.

“I’m sure he takes every game individually in terms of how the team is going to set up and play, but it would be exciting if we could both play up top and cause a bit of carnage.

“I’ve been lucky to come here at the same time as Kieffer because training alongside someone who has played at the highest level can only help. When you are chasing something like we are, fighting at the top end of the Championship, you need to have that depth and it just pushes us all to be better.”

Photo: Matchday Images

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Steelmonkey added 23:35 - Feb 23
Let’s hope he has even more potential to unlock and goes on to surpass even McKenna’s expectations.

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