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Douaa Abdelkebir on Mahrez, Guardiola and the importance of Africa's influence in football

(Recorded Fall 2019)

(Photo courtesy of Douaa Abdelkebir)

Hailing from the largest country in Africa, 19 year-old biology student Douaa Abdelkebir is a passionate football fan. In this interview, we talk about what it's like being a female football fan, how racism shapes her relationship with football and how her relationship with football has changed while living in the States.

Wandering eyes, this is Douaa’s story…


What’s the most important sport in Algeria?

Football. Football. Football.

Did you play football growing up?

Yes. So they say that in Algeria you find two things in the streets: kids and football. Whenever you are out, kids are playing football in the street. Most of the famous players were street players. I used to play football a lot as a kid with the neighborhood kids.

And what was that experience like?

I mean we were not really good at it [laughs], but we felt so much pride! Whatever we saw on TV, we tried to be like that. You know how a player has a little dance or celebration?


We tried to do that! We were imitating the TV games.

I don’t recall, but did Algeria play in the World Cup?

Algeria did not play in the 2018 World Cup. We did play in 2014 and 2010.

Do you follow any leagues?

I do follow a lot of leagues [laughs]. So I follow the Premier League…

Do you have a favorite team?

Last year (2018), I used to really like Manchester City. They were like a really good team. They have the best selection of players. But this season (2019-2020), they aren’t doing well. I see why. It’s because of the manager. I don’t blame the players.

Pep Guardiola?

Yes, Pep Guardiola. He’s been accused of racism - I’m really diving into this.

Let’s say there’s a player of African descent, Guardiola does not think of that player. He does not think it is necessary for that player to shine, you know what I mean? There are a lot of players that can really make a difference in multiple games and he still won't put them in as starters of course. They need to start the game. They need to feel the whole heat of the game.

How does that make you feel as a woman of color who loves football?

I hate it so much but at the same time, I was so happy when he lost the game against Liverpool (November 2019). I was like, “This should be a big lesson to you!”.

There’s this player of Algerian descent at Man City. His name is Riyad Mahrez. He’s such a good player. He’s a game changer. If he’s in, he’s going to do something that is going to change the game. He’s like the "game maker". He’s not scoring but he has the most assists within the forward line. He (Guardiola) did not use him in the Liverpool game. After that I was like, “Man City, like ‘bye bye’”.

A big role that plays in me supporting a team is the racial diversity. Does that come to mind when you choose a team to support? Like you said, if there are players with Algerian descent or they come from your social identity groups, does that come to mind?

That is so correct. Usually we are so much more interested when we see someone that we can relate to doing so well in the league. Let’s be honest, Africa produces the best players. A lot of people say France produces the biggest amount of the best players. Those people are coming from Africa. For example, I really enjoy the games when there’s a player that I admire or relate to, like La Liga, the Spanish league. There are a lot of Algerian players in La Liga like Benzema, who’s a very famous player, plays for Real Madrid.

I think diversity is really important, especially in clubs. That’s why La Liga and Premier League are the best leagues. Thinking about other leagues, yeah they might have diversity but it’s not as prevalent.

You said that you used to support Man City. Who do you support now?

Right now, I don’t think I am supporting anyone in the Premier League. Liverpool is doing so well...

Liverpool is nasty…

Yeah. Salah is in there. Mane is in there. I support both of them. They are both great players.

Do you find yourself supporting just one team or do you support several teams? Is it mainly the players you support on those different teams?

I really like Cristiano. When he switched out of Real Madrid, it was a big thing. Everybody fell in love with that team because of him. So many people still love Real Madrid. It’s about the whole team. Real Madrid is not a “one star” team. That’s why the fans still stick with the team. So I think it’s both. It’s hard, because you’re like, “I really want to support them but I’m leaning towards them…”.

And being here in the States, has your relationship with football changed?

I think so. When I first came here, I kept hearing people say, “football, football, football” and I thought they were talking about the football that I know. They were talking about American football. I find it really interesting that in the US, I know that American football is the most famous but there’s basketball, baseball, etc. If you go to the countries I’ve been talking about it’s football, then football, then football, then another sport. I like that there are diverse sports and teams here in the States.

Also, you can’t discuss football with other people. It’s kind of hard. I wish I had more people to talk to about football. Last year, the World Cup (2018) was so boring. So boring! It’s the most exciting tournament for football, however, I know that the US didn’t qualify. But I was like, “come on! You should see this!”.

Football is not that popular here in the US but if you go into a pub in Liverpool or go to a pub in France or even Singapore, they are watching it. Anywhere but here!

I mean it’s really interesting. I love it and I hate it at the same time. We love American football here. For us (Algerians), even if you are not in a pub, the whole family comes together. Uncles! Everyone! We came together to watch it because it’s the World Cup! Especially when it’s the final! I expected something at least during the final (in the States) - there was nothing. It was so disappointing. Even during the Women’s World Cup, the US won! There was nothing going on in the streets! I was like, “can’t you guys appreciate this?!”. If it was the men’s team, I am sure there would be something. The US Women’s team won the World Cup - nothing.

As a woman, do you feel as if you are not taken seriously in the world of football?

I am really appreciative of the US Women’s team - it’s so hard for them! Especially since this country isn’t that accepting of football or soccer. It’s a male dominated sport. Even if the men’s team is really bad, people will still tune into that game but not watch the women’s team. The interesting thing about it is that the men’s team didn’t even qualify while the women’s team won the World Cup. It’s really sad. Of course the men’s team gets paid even when they lose, while the women’s team doesn’t get paid if they lose - at all. It's an injustice.

Football still has its problems. It has a lot of problems along the lines of gender, race…

I think that it has a lot of problems. There’s a good thing about it though. I think it’s more interesting to watch the World Cup, (UEFA) Euros, African Cup and Champions League. When you watch country teams, I think it’s more exciting. It’s less problematic than club teams, especially when talking about race.

(Courtesy of Zineb Ouardaoui)

When it’s Senegal versus Nigeria or Algeria versus Egypt, when those countries play, there aren't a lot of issues of race?

In Africa, it’s kind of different. I mean, the last African Cup, Algeria won. It was really huge. It was amazing. The tournament was held in Egypt. The thing about African tournaments, we’re united but still divided somehow.

What do you mean by divided?

I feel like there’s this East Africa versus West Africa thing in African culture. A lot of people feel like it’s (racism) not that prominent. There is this East Africa v. North Africa v. South Africa v. West Africa thing going on. It’s way less problematic than other leagues.

Is it because of the racial demographics compared to Europe?

It’s understandable. Compared to other places, it’s fine.

(Courtesy of Zineb Ouardaoui)


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