There is arguably no player that packed in more action into nine international caps for Palestine. Midfielder Nazmi Albadawi captured the hearts and minds of fans of the national team when he made his debut in November 2018; coming on as a substitute and scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 friendly win over Pakistan.
His path to the national team was a long and winding one. Born in North Carolina to Palestinian parents he took an unconventional path embarking on a professional career in his early twenties; only after completing his degree and starring for North Carolina State University during his time there as a student.
It is not uncommon for footballers in the United States to attend and graduate from university- a model that is still applied because of its popularity and success in producing elite Olympians as well as top Basketball, Baseball, and American Football recruits.
For the beautiful game in the United States that model has been much derided and it took Major League Soccer decades to shift its focus to homegrown development of talent. The talent scouting in a massive country of over 300 million people went something like this: Either you caught the eye of the national academy scouts and were sent to Florida to train in the national set up OR you went to college and hoped for the best.
Nazmi went to college. It was a decision that would pay dividends and although his talent was oft overlooked by the United States and several MLS sides that opened up a path to play for Palestine.
In fact, the man who first proposed the idea was Omar Jarun who had noticed a young Albadawi fast establishing himself for the Carolina Railhawks (later to be known as North Carolina FC) in the NASL (the second division of the American soccer pyramid).
“The first contact, through Omar, came up a while ago, around the time of the [2015 Asian Cup]. At the time it just didn’t feel right, I didn’t know much about the team at all but the opportunity came up again after a couple of years and I am very thankful that it did”
When Nazmi did choose to represent Al-Fida’i the fans got the final piece of the puzzle for a team that had focused on youth and rebuilt following their first Asian Cup appearance. Palestine was sorely missing a natural attacking midfielder who could dictate the pace of the game and that is exactly what Albadawi proved to be.
In the time between his first contact with the national team and his debut Nazmi Albadawi earned his move to MLS- debuting with Cincinnati FC in the 2019 season and earned plaudits from The Athletic as one of the best players in NASL/USL over the last decade:
A rare academy graduate in the NASL era, Nazmi Albadawi advanced from the RailHawks’ U-23 team to take a starring role in 2014. He was the midfield lynchpin in Carolina for four seasons, making 110 NASL appearances and landing on the NASL best XI in 2016 and 2017. Alternating between playing as a No. 10 and in a box-to-box role, Albadawi is as capable of driving the ball into the box on the dribble as he is picking a pass to break lines. He continued his success with FC Cincinnati in 2018 before spending most of 2019 on loan with North Carolina again after just one MLS appearance.-The Athletic’s USL & NASL combined team of the decade
Nazmi Albadawi’s debut performance earned him a spot on Palestine’s 2019 Asian Cup squad and he came pretty close to sending Palestine to the Round of 16 only to have a good effort on goal blocked in the decisive game vs. Jordan that ended in a 0-0 draw.
The American born midfielder would turn that disappointment into stunning success in his next game with Al-Fida’i producing a stunning assist for Oday Dabbagh in a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in World Cup qualifying. That result remains one of Palestine’s most impressive win and he followed it up with yet another man of the match display against Saudi Arabia. That 0-0 draw in World Cup qualification could have been an easy win but for whatever reason Palestine’s forwards could not finish.
Many players who are recruited from the diaspora often face trouble getting approval from Palestine supporters. Criticism, largely unjustified, has been pointed in the direction of Amr Kaddoura, Mahmoud Eid, Jaka Ihbeisheh, and Ahmed Awad amongst many others. The general consensus on Nazmi Albadawi, though, is overwhelmingly positive despite the fact that all nine of his caps came under the dour, defensive, and reactive Noureddine Ould Ali.
In fact, finding anyone associated with Palestinian football who might harbor negative feelings towards the midfielder is a near impossibility. Well wishes rained in from every corner of the world upon him announcing his retirement in an Instagram post.
With a new regime in charge, fans were looking forward to seeing Nazmi Albadawi rejoin the national team after a long layoff due to COVID-19. Ould Ali nearly called him to the March qualifier against Saudi Arabia but he changed his mind at the the 11th hour.
With Makram Dabboub at the helm, and the side in desperate need for a creative presence in the three man midfield, fans waited with bated breath for the return of Abu Nadal. That return, was not to come, as a persistent injury caused the player to miss time with North Carolina FC. That injury would continue to hamper Albadawi’s availability, which in turn led to the decision to hang up his boots.
In spite of a premature and unscripted finish, Nazmi Albadawi did give one final salute to fans- a reminder of his absolute brilliance on and off the pitch scoring twice in a 4-1 win on his last appearance for NCFC on September 11th, 2021.
Albadawi is expected to remain active in the sport and will take on a coaching role in the academy of his hometown club.
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