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Iraqi playmaker still hopes for Man City transfer

BANGKOK, May 27 (Reuters) - Iraq's Nashat Akram is refusing to give up hope of a dream move to the Premier League, despite being denied a work permit by the British government.

The midfield playmaker, likened to former world player of the year Zinedine Zidane by his former coach Egil Olsen, is hoping Manchester City can pull some strings and take him to England before the start of next season.

'I want to play in England, so much, It's the best league in the world,' Akram said. 'I'm good enough, I trust myself, I believe in myself.'

News that Akram had signed a contract with City was widely celebrated in violence-torn Iraq, where posters of him were pasted on walls with the slogan 'the dream came true because of our determination and zeal'.

However, Britain's interior ministry rejected his application because Iraq's national team - which cannot play home matches - was two places shy of its requirement, a top-70 world ranking.

'The deal was done, my medical, my contract, but they sent me back,' he said. 'There was nothing I could do.'

Manchester City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson had described Akram - an Iraqi league debutant aged 16 - as 'an elegant footballer' and said the denial was a big blow to the club.

City officials recently told Reuters the club was still interested in signing the 24-year-old, who played a key part in Iraq's fairytale Asian Cup victory last year.

Akram, who has played club soccer in the lucrative leagues of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, insisted his desire to move to England is not financially driven.

'It's not about the money, I can earn money in the Middle East. I want to play in the Premier League,' he said. 'It's different to anywhere else in the world, even the rest of Europe, but I can play there, I can adapt.'

In January, both Iraq's soccer federation and Manchester City submitted unsuccessful appeals to the British government to grant Akram a work permit.

Several British politicians have since lobbied government ministers, saying Akram was a role model for Iraqis and the denial 'sent out the wrong messages'.

'The rules are so difficult in England,' said Akram, who lives with his family in Jordan, far from the daily bloodshed in Baghdad.

'I just want to try and show people that Iraqi footballers can make it.'

For now, Akram has other things to worry about.

On Monday, FIFA suspended his team from international matches after the Iraqi government dissolved its Olympic committee and national sports federations.

The one-year ban, which Baghdad is seeking to overturn, could see Iraq booted out of 2010 World Cup qualifying.

'We have many, many problems in Iraq,' he said. 'We hope they can fix this. We just want to play football.'


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