Mohammed Direya – First Palestinian player in Virsliga

6 September 2022

Mohammed Direya – a 21-year-old right-sided defender, who has played both as a winger and as a center forward, has arrived in Valmiera. In his first conversation, he talks about himself, and football in Palestine, while also revealing his future goals.

”I am an attacking type of player, I like to go forward. I think I’m good at dribbling the ball, I’m a fast player. Also likes to engage in aerial duels. Of course, no one is perfect and I also have something to work on – I believe that I still have to work a lot on the defensive game. That is my first goal with this team and I know it will allow me to get better. If you compare the Latvian and Palestinian leagues, I can say that both are very strong, but the small things here are definitely better – for example, the training base. Things like this help players develop.

One of my favorite players is Theo Hernandez from AC Milan, it is his style of play that appeals to me and we play in a similar manner. However, it must be said that my attacking skills come from having previously played as a left winger, and striker. I have been playing as a left defender relatively recently – for the last two years. At first, it was not easy to get used to, but I like this position very much and now I have settled in. I have kept my attacking style as I like to be close to the opposition goalkeepers and still like to get the ball into the attack.

Although I like AC Milan, my favorite team is Real Madrid, I like their winning mentality, they have historically managed to win a lot of titles. Also, I like the physical football they play. Very nice team.

Playing in the Palestinian League is not easy. It’s also very physical, but that’s why I’ve gained knowledge and training has helped me get to where I am now. The atmosphere at the games is fantastic, the fans love football as a game, they really enjoy watching it. It is a good thing for us because we feel supported. My team’s stadium has 15 thousand seats, a lot of people come to the games, and it is almost always full. There is no sport more popular in Palestine than football.

Al-Khalil SC team is where I grew up – one of the most popular and oldest in the country. I started with the U-14 team and over time I got to the main team. I will remember those as very special years in football. We won the title twice in a row, making historic successes along the way – last season we managed to win absolutely all the games. The club was founded in 1943, so it has a very extensive history. When we won the title two years ago, I was voted the best left-back in the league. It was also a very special moment for me, which allowed me to break through to the national team. I’m glad that people at home recognize me, especially in the city where I play – they come over and take pictures.

How did I get to Valmiera? Everything is simple, the agent called and said that there is an offer from Valmiera FC. I didn’t have to think long, I agreed. I wanted to get to Europe to start my football journey away from home. A friend of mine is playing in Europe and he knows some Latvian guys, I ask him to find out who the team is, and where exactly will I go. He told a lot about this country and the team. The first thing that stuck in my mind was that the team is young and fighting for the championship title. This motivated me to go to Latvia so that I could help the team achieve the set goals.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was the atmosphere in the team, it is unique. The coaches, players, and staff are very nice. I have enjoyed my time here so far. Valmiera as a city is very quiet. As a football player, it is perfect, I can concentrate on football. When I arrived, I talked to coach Jurgis Kalna to hear what he expected from me. He said he would see how I could be used on the field, and how I could help the team. All the players are also very approachable, but I have become the closest to Kristers Penkevics, he is a very good guy. Helped me settle into the city, showed me different places, and gave me good advice. I already feel comfortable here.

To be honest, I couldn’t wait to play. I experienced my debut in Latvian football in the Valmiera FC/VSS team, playing against Saldus Leevon, which was not one of the easiest. After the first half, we were behind with 0:3 but managed to fight back and win. We played as a team, did not lower our heads, and played the whole 90 minutes. Coach Renars Rode said at halftime that you just have to keep playing football, that you don’t have to rush things on the field. Of course, I started unsuccessfully myself, earning an 11-meter penalty kick on my own goal, but I told myself that I would definitely correct my mistake, and repay the team for this situation. In the end, I scored two goals and helped to win.

I can’t wait to make my debut on the first team. I attended the team’s previous game and I really liked the fans, their support, and the atmosphere. It was really nice. I can’t wait to be in the stadium again. I want to help the team win the title, it would also be cool to qualify for the Champions League. However, the main thing is to win the Virsliga title. Personally, it is important for me to become a good addition to the team, to help win games, no matter – by passing efficiently or scoring goals. In the future, of course, I am looking at one of the Top 5 leagues. This is my biggest goal because I want to bring the name of Palestinian football to the world. I am the first Palestinian player in Latvia, there are four or five others in Europe and this is already a great achievement for our football.”

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