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Iraqi midfielder Yaser Kasim’s path to Swindon Town was harder than most. Born in Baghdad, he came to England with his family at the age of 7 and developed his passion for football in West London. He spent time with the Fulham and Tottenham academies, but turned down a professional contract at Spurs in favour of joining Brighton.
After a couple of loan spells and a single first team appearance, Kasim joined Swindon after being released by Brighton in the summer of 2013, signing a three-year contract after a trial, a sure sign of manager Mark Cooper’s faith in him.
With sublime ball control and a calm approach, Kasim’s Town career started brilliantly - alongside Massimo Luongo in the centre of midfield, the pairing were capable of superb displays, running games with all the confidence and tempo of a League One Xavi and Iniesta. After making his debut as a second-half substitute in a 1-0 defeat at Peterborough on the opening day of the season (a game that was encouraging despite the result), Kasim made his full debut three days later in the League Cup against Torquay, and was barely left out of the side thereafter - his early form even prompting a £250,000 bid from an unnamed Championship club before his Town career was even a month old, the rumour mill suggesting that the bid had come from Queens Park Rangers, who the Town had just dumped out of the League Cup, with Kasim pulling the strings.
Very quickly, Kasim’s form brought him to the attention of his national side, and though he refused the first invitation for an Asian Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia in November - preferring instead to concentrate on his place in the Town starting eleven - he accepted the call for Iraq’s final qualifying game the following March, making his international debut in a 3-1 victory over China that sealed Iraq’s place in the tournament at the expense of their opponents. His performance drew significant praise - one commentator suggesting that “no player in the history of the national side has made the position his own after only ninety minutes, but that was exactly what Yaser Kasim did when he bossed the midfield against China.”
After finishing the 2013/14 season just outside the play-off places, the following season saw the Town challenging right at the top of the table, with Kasim instrumental as part of a strong midfield group, also including Luongo, Ben Gladwin and Louis Thompson. Individual success for Kasim and Luongo proved costly for the Town at the turn of the year though, when both were called up for their respective countries for the Asian Cup tournament in January - with Iraq making it to the semi-finals, and Australia the tournament winners, both Town players were unavailable for the longest possible period - Luongo named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, while Kasim was also named in a listing of the tournament’s best midfielders.
When they returned, both men looked understandably jaded - the Town’s push for an automatic promotion place faltering - and though Kasim was superb in the play-off semi-final matches against Sheffield United that saw Town through to the final, no-one came out of the final with any credit, as Mark Cooper’s side were comprehensively thumped 4-0 by Preston at Wembley - a result that led to the side being broken up over the summer.
After Luongo and Gladwin were sold, Kasim was widely expected to follow them out of the County Ground exit door, but a move failed to materialise, and Kasim remained a regular in a Town side that had had the heart ripped out of it. He was linked with moves to Premier League sides West Ham and Swansea in the January transfer window - and after a £1 million move to the Liberty Stadium broke down on deadline day, Kasim was accused by some of no longer putting his all into his performances - and he certainly failed to hit the heights that he had managed in his previous two seasons. Less than a year after being voted his country’s Best Expat Footballer by the Iraqi Professional Players group, Kasim missed out on a place in Iraq’s Olympic squad after going AWOL on a training camp (though Kasim claimed he was injured) - later, rumours of bust-ups behind the scenes led to Kasim announcing his retirement from international football, though he would later return when the national team’s manager was replaced.
Kasim’s form for the Town never returned though, and an injury-littered final season culminated in relegation to League Two, and his release. Instead of going on to play at a higher level as he surely should have done, though he was linked with Bristol City, Charlton and an unnamed Spanish club, he moved on to an uninspiring spell at Northampton, where he made just a handful of appearances - later going on to play in Sweden and back in his homeland. His long term legacy may well be a generation of Iraqi Swindon Town fans, who made their presence known on Town’s social media throughout Kasim’s time in SN1.
date of birth
defensive central midfield