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“That could have really destroyed me as a person”

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Meeting in Kitzbühel: Munas Dabbur and SPOX editor Jochen Tittmar.

Munas Dabbur has been playing for TSG 1899 Hoffenheim since 2020, but the striker has not yet caught fire in the Bundesliga like he did with Grashoppers Zurich and Red Bull Salzburg.

In an interview with SPOX and GOAL, Dabbur talks at length about his career path, which began as a goalkeeper. The Israeli tells of 150 goals in one season, the tragic death of his father and silence with his grandfather.

In addition, the 30-year-old comments on the mistaken process of his move to Europe, the “big brother” Marco Rose and the cold Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui.

Mr. Dabbur, you were born in 1992 in Nazareth – the city in Israel that Christians consider to be the hometown of Jesus. How did you grow up there and get into football?

Munas Dabbur: I am the youngest of five sons. We all had a good childhood, even if we were missing a few things that might seem normal elsewhere. Since my grandfather was one of the founding members of Maccabi Ahi Nazareth and my father was the managing director there, football was always our priority. We talked about it all the time, watched games and kicked ourselves. However, there was no suitable soccer field. There was only one real soccer field, but that was shared by five clubs in the Nazareth area. The lawn looked the same. There was always a lot going on there.

You are said to have only joined your first club Maccabi Ahi Nazareth in 2003 at the age of eleven. Why not earlier?

Dabbur: That’s a bit unusual: I started at the football school in Nazareth when I was four years old. It belongs to the club, Maccabi Ahi. However, there is no team for under 11s there – not until today. The under-elevens train three times a week at the football school. You only played in a team and a league when you were eleven.

Who were your football role models?

Dabbur: I was a big Arsenal fan. Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry were my favorite players. A lot of international football was watched in my family. For many years, however, I have only seen the first of Maccabi Ahi play live. So it was always my big dream to play there one day.

Did you play as a striker from the start?

Dabbur: no I was actually a goalkeeper! But only during my first two years. I liked that. When we played football at home, I was always in the box. It’s still like that to this day, I like to score in a five-a-side game. But I absolutely can’t remember how or why I ended up becoming a field player. It could well have something to do with the fact that I mostly put the ball on the ground and charged forward with dribbles. (laughs)

You played in Nazareth until you were 18 in 2010. When did you realize that it could be enough for the professional sector?

Dabbur: When I was ten, we played a lot of tournaments that also included teams from Europe. We were really good, I always scored a lot of goals. Suddenly I got an invitation to a trial session from Ajax Amsterdam. I still have the newspaper article that was written about me. But my mother wouldn’t let me. In the years that followed, until I was 15, I continued to score an incredible number of goals. So really crazy many, I once had 150 goals in one season. My father was a great help to me. He always stood by me and motivated me to take football more and more seriously and become more professional. During this time, the belief arose that one day I would be able to play for Maccabi Ahi.

That worked for the first time in the 2009/2010 season: at the age of 17 you played for the professionals in the Israeli first division. How do you remember it?

Dabbur: That’s a funny story. Englishman John Gregory, who previously coached Aston Villa for four years, was the coach. The season was well advanced and relegation was almost certain. At that time it was anything but usual to look around for young players in your own offspring. Gregory then arranged a friendly between his first team and second team. I scored two goals. After the game he said: ‘Why doesn’t the boy play with us?’

After that he used you right away with the pros?

Dabbur: no A week later, I hadn’t trained at all because of exams at school, the same game was agreed again – and I scored twice again. After that he pulled me up to the pros and let me play five more games towards the end of the season, around 20, 30 minutes each time.

So why did you move to Maccabi Tel Aviv after this season?

Dabbur: After relegation I had the opportunity to go to Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Petach Tikwa or Maccabi Tel Aviv – to the second team in each case because I was still young and could have played there for another two years. I have to explain that too: There are no U23s in Israel, the second teams are U19 teams. In Tel Aviv I got a professional contract for six months with an option for another six months, but I was part of the second team.

Why did you decide to do so when your main goal was to play for the first team in Nazareth?

Dabbur: I didn’t decide it myself, my grandfather did it. After my father died, he was the head of the family. He was like my advisor. My grandpa had 40 years of football experience, knew everyone and said: ‘Go to Tel Aviv.’ I couldn’t say no, but of course Maccabi Tel Aviv is also a big club with a great academy, and there was a decent salary. That was the first money I earned from football. Before that in Nazareth I was lucky that I was in good hands thanks to my grandfather and my father, but I didn’t have a contract there.

Her father died in a car accident the year before at the age of 37. Is it true that you then considered quitting football?

Dabbur: Yes. When that happened, it wasn’t just football that ended for me, it was my entire life. I would say that I was the son my father had the closest relationship with. He has always supported me, especially in football. He was there at every training session and every game, he helped me with every problem. So it made no sense for me to continue without him. The season had just ended. We were off for a month, but I immediately told my coach that I was quitting.

You were just 16 at the time. How did you deal with the loss in the early days?

Dabbur: It was a huge and indescribable shock for all of us. I just sat in my room, didn’t speak to anyone, hardly ate or drank anything. Everything went black for me. Of my brothers, it probably took me the longest to recover from it to some extent. Even after training started again, I didn’t go for a month. I was like dead

How did you come back and keep playing?

Dabbur: Through my mother. She said to do it for me and my father. It was his dream that I would have a good career.

Looking back, what did you take with you from this tragic experience?

Dabbur: That could have really destroyed me as a person. But it strengthened me and gave me strength. It still does today. Because when I’m feeling bad or I’m down, I always remind myself: I lost my everything, but it didn’t destroy me. Therefore, no matter what else happens in my life, nothing will be able to break me. This insight has helped me a lot throughout my career.

So you ended up in the second team at Maccabi Tel Aviv without your father. What were your sporting prospects there?

Dabbur: I sat on the bench for the first six months and didn’t feel well at all. It was a completely different life, I was alone, had no friends there and no driver’s license either. So I moved into an apartment that was only a ten minute walk from the training ground but in a pretty spooky area. It was also difficult at first to be accepted there.

Munas Dabbur: An overview of his professional positions

association Period competitive matches Gates templates
Maccabi Ahi Nazareth 2009-2010 5
Maccabi Tel Aviv 2011-2014 78 23 9
Grasshopper Club Zurich 2014-2016 92 49 26
Red Bull Salzburg 2016-2019 128 72 31
Grasshopper Club Zurich (loan) 2017 13 7 2
FC Seville 2019-2020 9 3 2
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim since 2020 77 22 8th

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