Mo Babouli’s next move will take him halfway across the world to Syria.
The former Toronto FC striker, who was born in the United Arab Emirates but grew up in Mississauga, has signed for Al-Ittihad, who are based in Aleppo.
It’s a bold choice: the Canadian government still advises against all travel to Syria due to the ongoing civil war. Aleppo has been a key battleground but President Bashar al-Assad’s regime retook the city last December.
So, what’s driving this move? It’s hard to get an accurate translation of the comments posted on Al-Ittihad’s digital channels but I wonder if Babouli might be eligible to play for the Syrian national team through a family link.
The above Facebook post says something about Babouli becoming “the owner of Syrian identity”. He has represented Canada at Under-23 level but was never cap-tied.
UPDATE: Thanks to commenter wnassar, who has translated the Arabic posts for confirmation:
The Arabic caption for the Al Ittihad FB post writes that Babouli got his Syrian ID card.
I also watched this video from the same FB page (Your neck will hurt —> https://www.facebook.com/ittihadofaleppo/videos/348427785611000/) and Babouli says in Arabic that he is looking forward to joining the Syrian national team and will be getting his Syrian passport sometime next week. He was invited to the Syrian national team training camp back in February but was unable to join them in Lebanon due to ‘administrative issues’.
If that is the case, the motivation for switching allegiances would lie in the fact that Syria still have a chance of qualifying for next summer’s World Cup. They scored a 93rd-minute equalizer against Iran earlier this month to book a place in the Asian play-off game against Australia.
The goal that secured a World Cup play-off spot for Syria. pic.twitter.com/vzEUAEOYAQ— P (@BielsaBall) September 5, 2017
The winner of that tie will then play another play-off against the fourth-place team from CONCACAF.
Babouli was released by Toronto in April. He then had a brief spell in League1 Ontario with Sigma FC, scoring five goals in six games.
The 24-year-old was the League1 Ontario MVP with the TFC Academy in 2014 and moved up to TFC II for the 2015 season. Last year, he signed an MLS deal and made 16 league appearances for Toronto’s first team, recording one assist.
Babouli has been seen as a prime candidate to sign for a Canadian Premier League club, which remains a possibility given that league will not launch until after the World Cup.