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From Hero to Hack

A chance encounter with Pakistan’s “king of football”

Author Richard Church Illustration Luci Gutiérrez

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DUBAI – The life of a Dubai cabbie is not easy. They work long hours for little pay, and ply their trade alongside some of the worst drivers in the world. Oddly, cabbies here are also among the most cheerful people you will ever encounter.

My driver today, who introduces himself as Mustafa, is no exception.

“Do you like cricket?” he asks jauntily, having established that I’m English.

I admit that I do not. Silence ensues.

“I like football,” I say.

Like almost everyone else in the world, Mustafa understands this to mean that I like soccer, rather than a game played mainly with your hands.

“I am a very good footballer,” Mustafa says.

“Oh?” I say.

“Yes,” he replies. “I scored a lot of goals. In my country, I was captain of the football team.”

“The national team?”

“Yes. President Musharraf was very good to me. He liked me.”
Mustafa has an impressive mustache, but he does not look like an athlete. It’s been several years since Pervez Musharraf was president of Pakistan—maybe my driver was once lithe and agile. Maybe he was a hero.

 “Look at this,” Mustafa says, reaching into the door pocket. He produces a crown. “They made this for me.” The crown is made of metal. It looks fragile, but not in an elegant way.

“Wow,” I say. “A crown.”

“Yes,” says Mustafa. “A crown.”

“Like a king.”

I want to know how a sports legend came to be driving a cab in Dubai, but our journey is at an end.

“A king,” Mustafa says to me as I exit his cab. “A king of football.”

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