It was a sunny Sunday morning at the campus of the European International School in Parañaque City when I first got to meet Misagh Bahadoran up close. Too close, perhaps, for comfort. When all the shrieking girls following the Azkals say he’s good-looking, they weren’t lying. Bahadoran’s eyes have got magic in them — as if he could draw any woman to come closer to him at will.
Bahadoran was with Philippine national football coach Hans Michael Weiss and a few other Azkals teammates to grace the EIS Football Cup, a tournament jointly hosted by the German European School Manila and Ecole Française de Manille, for kids aged 7 to 13 years old.
Today, there are no shrieking girls calling out his name. There’s only one girl who has got Bahadoran wrapped around her little finger, Coach Weiss’ little girl Mathilda. Apart from this interview, the two have been inseparable, bonding over “zombies” on an iPad. It was indeed a perfect day to talk about football and some with the man many female supporters of the Azkals consider as one of the hottest items on the pitch these days.
On the field, he displays confidence, skill, and pace — proof of which is the fact that Coach Weiss has increasingly relied on him to play a key role in the national team’s attack.
Off the pitch, Bahadoran is equally charming, albeit a tad shy and feigning surprise when one mentions his popularity or good looks. “You might think I’m being mayabang,” he repeatedly says during our interview, as if placing a disclaimer before each statement, a curious trait for a man teammates have nicknamed “Hollywood”.
If there’s one thing I realized about Misagh Bahadoran in this interview, it’s that he’s a man that measures every word he says. He pauses to collect his thoughts, perhaps also as an effect not being entirely comfortable expressing himself in English, peppered with a few Tagalog words here and there.
I assure him it’s not a problem, and that I will try to capture what he exactly means with every topic we jump to and from. First up, his national team duties.
“I’m looking forward to playing against China in June,” Bahadoran says. “We haven’t played against them, and I heard they are a good team.”
When I ask him what else he wants to achieve with the national team this year, he immediately responds, “To win the Suzuki Cup.”
Then there’s the United Football League, where Bahadoran’s team, Global FC, is currently at the top of the standings. I asked if he thinks the team could maintain its position at the top of the table.
“I think we can win the League,” he says, “We play with our hearts, we have good players, and I don’t think any club can beat us easily.” Badahoran is quick to add that the league will become even more challenging as the weeks progress.
When asked who he thinks is their toughest competition right now, Bahadoran falters and says, “I don’t want to make any other team mad, but because we’ve already played against all the other teams, the only team we haven’t beaten yet is Loyola.”
Bahadoran is one busy man. Apart from club and country duties in football, he has also suited up for the Philippines’ national futsal team.
I congratulate him for a solid performance in the AFF Futsal Championship 2012, but Bahadoran is clearly disappointed with how the Philippines fared in the tournament.
“When I was playing futsal in Thailand, I always tried my best. I score the goals [for the Philippines], but if the other team scores more, then what is the worth of my goals?” he laments.
“We need more support,” he insists. “The problem that we have is the lack of players. We need clubs to release players for the futsal team. I hope that the futsal team can also get the same support as other national teams.”
Bahadoran, however, is quick to express gratitude over the attention lavished on him by fans, young and old alike.
“They’ve done a lot of good things for me,” reflects Bahadoran. “I’m so happy every time I see the fans cheering. They come to games at 2 p.m., watch under the hot sun and cheer for us. I see them smiling, and playing for them is one of the best things. I really appreciate their support.”
Right before the interview, I noticed that a lot of the little boys participating in the tournament went up to Bahadoran to have him sign jerseys and notebooks. There was even a young boy in an EIS uniform that gleefully told his teammates, “I met Misagh Bahadoran!”
“I’m very happy to be invited to events such as these,” says Bahadoran. “I see more people playing football. The kids attend football clinics, and they talk about wanting to be come an Azkal. When I say, ‘you can be a good football player’, they are really happy. I’m really happy that football has been growing significantly in the Philippines.”
I asked Bahadoran if he considers himself a role model for young kids. “Yes, of course,” he says rather sheepishly, especially after I told him that there were young boys that were excited to meet him. “The players from the national team are the little kids’ idols, and they look up to us for inspiration.”
When asked if he was ever surprised by his popularity, Bahadoran nonchalantly asks, “Am I popular?” The Internet seems to think that, I point out. He laughs. “I don’t think I’m popular. I want people to like me for being a good football player. I don’t really care about the popularity, but I do feel like I have more friends.”
Our football discussion took a more personal route. “Which football team do you root for?” I ask.
“I love Barcelona, but…” he trails off.
“Pep Guardiola is about to leave,” I say.
“Yes, yes,” Bahadoran says. “One of the most important things about football is leaving in the best way.”
Bahadoran also shares that he idolizes Ronaldinho. “He’s my favorite player. He’s not playing anymore, but still, I love him,” he says. In fact, a Ronaldinho Barcelona shirt is the first he has also owned a kid. “I really bought it!” he laughs.
He tells me I ask hard questions.
“OK, I’ll ask you easier ones. Tell me more about your teammates,” I grin before starting grill him about his teammates. “Who’s the smartest?”
“Smartest? No one!” he says. We burst into laughter. Uh-oh, we might get into trouble here.
Who is the best dressed? “Maybe Paul Mulders.”
Who is the hardest working? “Jerry Barbaso.”
Who has the worst taste in music? “I don’t know,” Bahadoran slowly says. “Carli might know. Hey Carli!” He leans over to Azkals teammate Carli de Murga, who was sitting a few feet away. “Who has the worst taste in music?”
“Ángel!” de Murga shoots back, without missing a beat. Bahadoran laughs heartily. “There you go, it’s Ángel,” referring to teammate Ángel Guirado, who was also supposed to attend the EIS Football Cup.
So why exactly does Guirado have the worst taste in music? “He likes very panget music,” Bahadoran explains. What exactly does that mean? “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Carli,” Bahadoran laughs.
Which teammate takes the longest in the shower? Bahadoran’s brow furrows, “What do you mean?” Rephrase the question. Who is the last to leave the locker room? “I don’t know… I haven’t been observing as much,” he says seriously. Then he breaks into a smile, “Don’t worry, I’ll observe next time and give you an answer!”
I hold him to that unanswered question and end the interview. In no time at all, little Mathilda is back on Bahadoran’s lap and the two immediately resume into their own little world of zombies.
It’s quite an endearing sight, I think. Just about enough to let the ladies go even more gaga over Bahadoran — if only they were around.