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Alan 12:31 Thu Aug 25
Feghouli article (long)
Independent

West Ham striker Sofiane Feghouli takes pride in combining Muslim faith with playing in the Premier League

Exclusive: West Ham & Algeria’s exciting new winger Sofiane Feghouli speaks for the first time about his pride in being a Muslim Hammer

Nabila Ramdani

When Sofiane Feghouli scored on his debut for West Ham United at the start of this season he celebrated like Mo Farah: prostrating himself in the Olympic Stadium in London and spending a moment in silent prayer.

As when the running champion won double gold there in 2012, Feghouli’s gesture of reverence during a charged football match was greeted by cheering and rapturous applause.

The overwhelming sense of respect was not lost on the French-Algerian 26-year-old, who is as proud to be a Muslim as he is an elite sportsman.

“British crowds are outstanding – generous, supportive and passionate,” said Feghouli, the hugely exciting winger whom West Ham signed from Valencia, in Spain last month.

“My faith is very important to me, but also very personal. When I pray on the pitch, it is always spontaneous.

“That crowds can accept this, and make a player feel comfortable as he expresses himself with honesty is very touching.”

Feghouli is one of a highly influential group of new Premier League stars who are not just devout Muslims, but also ones who grew up in the less salubrious suburbs of greater Paris.

They include the world’s most expensive player, Paul Pogba of Manchester United, N’Golo Kanté of Chelsea, and Riyad Mahrez of champions Leicester City, who is a great friend of Feghouli’s.

The pair were part of the outstanding Algeria side that gave Germany a scare in the 2014 World Cup, narrowly losing to the eventual champions 2-1 after extra time.

Feghouli, who was the captain of Algeria, is only too well aware of the way young men from similar backgrounds are demonised and discriminated against in France, but knows that perceptions can change.

Meeting him in his temporary home – the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel, near West Ham’s new ground – the soft-spoken, highly intelligent sportsman certainly came across as the perfect role model.

“My faith is all part of leading an exemplary life,” said Feghouli. “It’s part of a good lifestyle that teaches me to be respectful of other people at all times, and generally to try and do good in the world.

“I’m of course very proud to see Muslim players like Riyad doing so well in the Premier League, but they’re not there because they’re Muslims. They’re there because they’re great players.”

Feghouli was born in Levallois-Perret, around five miles from the centre of Paris, and then grew up in nearby Saint-Ouen, in the Seine-Saint-Denis department bordering the capital.

His first club was the semi-professional Red Star, in Saint-Ouen, whom he joined as an eight-year-old, and then he signed as a professional with Grenoble, in the French Alps, when he was 17.

“Football was always my absolute passion, and I wanted to play all the time,” said Feghouli, who has been given the prestigious No. 7 shirt at West Ham.

It was immortalised by iconic players throughout the decades in England, such as Eric Cantona, David Beckham and George Best.

“I was not into music, or films, or any other distractions – when I had time off I would normally get hold of a ball and carry on practicing.

“My career was tough at times – especially in the mountains in winter in Grenoble, but I always felt very privileged to be pursuing my lifetime ambition.”

Like many other French-Algerians, Feghouli chose the green of Algeria over the blue of France, because of “history, and where my heart wanted me to be”.

France’s relationship with its former colony has always been a troubled one. Those born and raised in France with links to the North African country stretching back generations frequently feel more attached to their country of origin than the place where they grew up.

Feghouli’s parents are from Algeria, and he spent many happy childhood holidays there.

“I have plenty of family in Algeria, and love it,” he said. “I of course visit when I am on international duties, but it is also a good place to take a break.”

Feghouli was a schoolboy when France won the World Cup in 1998. He was delighted for Les Bleus, but he believes the country has changed since then.

“The 1998 team was made up of players from all backgrounds, including Algerian,” said Feghouli, the youngest of four brothers.

“Zinedine Zidane, the best player, remains a national hero, and he has inspired a generation, but things have deteriorated.

“The Muslim community is being stigmatised for all the wrong reasons. It is particularly worrying that Islamophobia is rife in mainstream French life. It is an extremely unjust situation, and one that needs to be addressed.”

As an example, Feghouli recalled how his oldest brother, Nabil, used to tell him to avoid the Parc des Princes, where French champions Paris St Germain play, because of racist hooligans.

PSG has since been taken over by Gulf Arabs from Qatar, who have tried to change the club’s image, but there is still a problem with prejudice and hate.

Feghouli knows racist elements used to prey on English clubs like West Ham too, as fascist organisations used the terraces as recruiting grounds, and baited black and Asian players.

The club now has a zero-tolerance policy towards any kind of discrimination, clamping down hard on any racist chants or gestures.

“There has been considerable social change in Britain,” said Feghouli. “Players from ethnic and religious minorities are not experiencing racism in the way they used to. There is an openness and tolerance that is hugely impressive.

“Whereas bigotry can still appear acceptable across all strands of society in countries like France and Spain, the situation is far better in Britain.

“Voters in London electing a Muslim mayor is a huge step forward. Not everything is perfect – of course there is plenty of nastiness around – but generally Britain is getting things right.”

Manchester United dominated English football when Feghouli was growing up, but the big sides in the capital fascinated him.

“The London derbies were ones we had to watch,” he said. “There was always an epic intensity to them. I was very impressed by West Ham’s fighting spirit. They never gave up.

“All of that helped to convince me that they were the team to join at this stage of my career.”

Feghouli has a strong sense of history, and has read up on the Hammers who passed into folklore after having such a decisive role in England winning the World Cup in 1966.

Captain Bobby Moore, midfielder Martin Peters and hat-trick hero Sir Geoff Hurst saw the Three Lions to glory at Wembley 50 years ago, when they beat West Germany 4-2 after extra time.

The game makes him think of how close his Algeria side came to beating the world champions in extra time in 2014, but he knows that the “West Ham World Cup winners” are now the stuff of legend.

“They are a major part of the West Ham legacy, and everybody is reminiscing over it on the 50th anniversary” said Feghouli.

“The club has an incredible history, and the new Olympic Stadium is all part of it.

“Playing in front of 60,000 supporters, most of them West Ham fans, is a massive honour.

“I was delighted to score on my debut, and hope that there will be many more opportunities to do well.”

Beyond Farah, London 2012 also saw Taoufik Makhloufi, the Algerian middle-distance runner, become 1500 meters champion at the Olympics.

“I enjoyed that triumph, and have been following this year’s Olympics too,” said Feghouli, who stayed up late to watch Farah’s double gold and Makhloufi take double silver in the 800m and 1500m finals this time around in Brazil.

As he pursues what he hopes will be a long and successful career in the UK, Feghouli believes that the achievements of Algerians like him and Makhloufi will influence others.

“I hope I can inspire young Muslim players in particular to persevere and do their best, and play exceptional football,” said Feghouli.

“There’s what you see on TV – the glitz and the goals – but there’s also very hard work, and seriousness, and talent.

“I see football as a pyramid – there’s a broad base, but very few at the top. Those who succeed are the most determined.”

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

COOL HAND LUKE 8:51 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
FWIW:

I reckon Nabila has stitched him up like a kipper here...

Soso may think Sadiq "KANT" Khan is a good idea, but he seems an articulate fella, and he surely wouldn't be so silly as to voice his view so stridently at this stage (especially as most of us think Kahn is a gobshite who should be flogged to death with barbed wire and buried in a field somewhere off the M25).

Nabila has used Soso to talk about HER beliefs and views, rather than him using her to talk about HIS, in my view. Shame on her.

Far too much of this silly 'reverse racism' going on at the moment...

geoffpikey 7:29 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
WIKI: "Nabila Ramdani is a French freelance journalist of Algerian descent who specialises in Anglo-French issues, Islamic affairs, and the Arab World."

Seen her as a talking head on news programs. She's never mentioned the chicken run, to my knowledge. I guess she got the interview as it was pitched to be about his faith not krazy bantz with Carroll. And fair enough.

SDKFZ 222 7:17 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
The prestigious number 7 shirt as worn at West Ham by:

Dudley Tyler, Johnny Ayris aaaand Christian Dailly!

, 7:12 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
Being Muslim would have saved Mathew Etherington tens of thousands of £s.

ratcatcher 6:59 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
spot on ........

"
I think most sensible people in Britain believe at heart that they couldn't care less what religion you are- just don't try and force it on the rest of us or demand special treatment.
"

chim chim cha boo 6:55 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
If they think Allah gets them goals and they find it motivates them they can believe anything they want as far as I'm concerned. Same goes for Christians too.

I think most sensible people in Britain believe at heart that they couldn't care less what religion you are- just don't try and force it on the rest of us or demand special treatment.

Private Dancer 6:33 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
How about getting fit and playing football, that'll do.

Fivetide 6:32 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
Exciting player. I have no interest in religion, but I'm glad he feels happy here, and hope it pays dividends.

arsegrapes 6:32 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
Exactly why mention your religion? We have had plenty of muslims playing for our club, don't remember any of them banging on about it, especially early doors.

the exile 6:31 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
Must say it annoys me a bit when Muslim players get down in the prayer position after they score. Demba Ba used to do it and Kouyate seems to have started doing it as well. It's not an anti-muslim thing because I don't like seeing Catholic players crossing themselves and looking heavenward either. Keep religion and politics separate from football, I say.

seth 6:30 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
The article does read as thought it wasn't written by a football journalist. Saying the number 7 is prestigious and then naming players who never wore it for West Ham was jarring.

seth 6:29 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
Probably the signing I am most excited about. He was already impressing a lot before his injury. Nice to see he's a thoughtful guy, too.

Lily Hammer 6:27 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
wook

Rather than him banging on about his religion, I suspect it might have been the journo, Nabila Ramdani , who brought up the subject. He seems like a friendly bloke, so I can't imagine him telling her to fuck off and mind her own business.

park chan wook 6:24 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
Got bored when he starts banging on about his religion. Just get fit and play football. West ham have more importance to me than his religion, keep it in your private life.

Infidel 6:05 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
He neglects to mention that Allah hates West Ham.

Ayew prayed to said Allah for about ten minutes on the pitch before his debut and look what happened.

grasshopper 1:01 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
He will disappoint in the duration

Grumpster 12:53 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
I like him and from what little I've seen of him in our shirt, he's a bloody superb crosser of the ball.

stoneman 12:53 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
I can't be arsed to read it but does it say when he is back?

Lily Hammer 12:50 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
I don't believe in his God, but Feghouli O'Akbhar, IMHO.

fraser 12:43 Thu Aug 25
Re: Feghouli article (long)
Can't argue with that..

It's fucking long

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