Melbourne: Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi has resumed training in Australia and revealed a dream to play in the domestic A-League, but admits he is out of shape after two months in a Thai jail.
The 25-year-old defender returned to Melbourne earlier this month after being detained during his honeymoon in Bangkok and threatened with extradition to his native Bahrain.
Bahraini authorities accuse him of offences linked to the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. But his detention sparked a worldwide outcry and he was eventually allowed back to Australia where he was granted asylum in 2014.
Al-Araibi ran back onto the training field this week with his second-tier club Pascoe Vale, and told The Melbourne Age newspaper he had a long-term goal to crack the A-League.
"I will start the training now and do my best. I want to see my future. I want to be in the A-League in the future. I am not ready now, but if I work hard, get better, maybe," he said.
The A-League is planning to expand from 10 teams to 12 and one of the new franchises, Melbourne-based Western United, is currently scouring state leagues for new players.
The newspaper said they planned to assess al-Araibi's credentials once he builds up his strength.
But the road back will be tough for a player whose fitness levels suffered during his time in a tiny Thai cell.
"I just did one training session before I went away so I have to work. I did some exercise in prison, but it's a very small area. There is not enough room for a football player to get fit," he said.
"I did as good a job as I can. Sometimes I went to the gym, but it's not enough. I could run a little bit, but there are many people in the jail, it's very hard for me to find the space."
Al-Araibi's fate became a cause celebre in the football world, with stars like Didier Drogba calling for his release and FIFA urging the Thai football authorities to intervene.
He said his Pascoe Vale teammates gave him a "very special welcome" on his return.
"They supported me and my wife – it's why I will always support this club and I want to work hard for this club," he said.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Feb 22, 2019 15:00:05 IST