Hoffenheim's Nadiem Amiri scored twice in Germany's 4-2 semi-final win over Romania at the 2019 U21 Euros. - © getty images
Hoffenheim's Nadiem Amiri scored twice in Germany's 4-2 semi-final win over Romania at the 2019 U21 Euros. - © getty images

Bayer Leverkusen's Nadiem Amiri: the refugees' son who hasn't forgotten his roots


New Bayer Leverkusen signing Nadiem Amiri may not have had to walk quite as arduous a road as his refugee parents, but on the doorstep of global stardom he hasn't forgotten those less fortunate than himself.

Amiri's parents fled war-torn Afghanistan in the 1980s, settling in the city of Ludwigshafen am Rhein. It was there that Nadiem was born in October 1996, and there - thanks to his parents' hard work and sacrifice - that he was able to pursue his footballing passion.

"It's very hard to be forced to leave your family at a young age, and go to a foreign country where you don't speak the language," he admitted in an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com. "But my parents were determined to make something of their lives. To do that you need willpower, you need heart, you have to be ready to work and learn the language. You can't just wait for a solution to pop up out of thin air."

Watch: Meet Nadiem Amiri!

Amiri's parents worked various odd jobs to enable their sons Nauwid and Nadiem to hone their skills and eventually embark on a career in football. While the former has spent most of his playing days in Germany's lower leagues, the latter has been thrust into the Bundesliga spotlight with Hoffenheim - and, as of 2019/20, Bayer Leverkusen - and looks well on his way to becoming a global star.

Having joined Hoffenheim's youth academy at 15, Amiri developed into an energetic and tactically intelligent attacking midfielder under the tutelage of Julian Nagelsmann, who would later become his first-team coach. The two men won the U19 Bundesliga title together in 2013/14, with Amiri scoring two goals in the final, a 5-0 dismissal of Hannover.

"Nadiem is a special player, because he has come through the TSG academy and calmly matured into a young professional of exceptional talent," Nagelsmann said in the summer of 2017, when Amiri signed a two-year contract extension through to 2020. "He's still getting better, and it's great that he will continue to improve here in the future."

Julian Nagelsmann and Amiri (l-r.) spent seven years together at Hoffenheim. - 2019 Getty Images

Amiri made his Bundesliga debut in February 2015, and had established himself as a first-team regular by the time Nagelsmann took over from Huub Stevens a year later. By the end of the 2018/19 season he had played in 106 Bundesliga matches, scoring 11 goals and adding 13 assists.

He also made his bow for the Germany U21s in March 2016, coming on as a late substitute in a European U21 Championship qualifier against Russia. After a hugely impressive 2016/17 season at club level - in which he helped TSG to secure a historic fourth-place finish - Amiri was called up by Stefan Kuntz for the tournament itself, where Germany lifted their second European U21 Championship crown with a 1-0 victory over Spain in the final.

"We were simply the better team, and put in a terrific tactical performance," Amiri enthused, after then club teammate Jeremy Toljan had set up Bayer Leverkusen's Mitchell Weiser - then of Hertha Berlin - for the title-clinching goal.

Amiri (bottom left) was a crucial part of the Germany squad which won the U21 Euros in 2017. - imago/Ulmer

And now, two years later, Amiri's determination to follow in the footsteps of Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Mesut Özil and Co. - who followed up victory at the 2009 European U21 Championship with 2014 FIFA World Cup glory - speaks volumes.

His two goals in the semi-finals of the 2019 European U21 Championships helped Germany produce a fantastic comeback to beat Romania, giving them the chance to become the first German generation to clinch back-to-back titles at U21 level. It was not to be, however. Amiri scored in the final against Spain, but it was only a late consolation in a 2-1 defeat.

Despite his ambition and newfound status as one of Germany's brightest young stars, the 22-year-old has never forgotten his roots. He has been involved in Hoffenheim's various refugee projects, working with the Red Cross and local volunteers to provide support for people who have been through the same ordeal as his parents 30 years ago.

"I have talked to some of them about their escape, and what they said was unbelievable. These people have my greatest respect. The incredible thing is how little things can make them happy. They were delighted just to be given a Hoffenheim t-shirt."

Amiri is now chasing his second successive Euro U21 title. - imago images / Gribaudi/ImagePhoto

Though he was fortunate enough to avoid following in his parents' footsteps, Amiri believes that his modest upbringing had an impact on the player he has become - and stresses that football has a unique power to bring people together.

"I'm a bit of a street footballer," he confessed. "I play with a lot of heart and try to do my best to help the team. My winning mentality definitely comes from the street. When it comes to football, skin colour and religion don't matter. Everyone gets together and we all enjoy it."

Amiri's parents travelled over 3,000 miles from Afghanistan to Germany in search of a safe place to live and raise their children. Thirty years on, the Amiris have a successful car dealership, while their youngest son is a European U21 Champion and has the footballing world at his feet at Leverkusen. Some stories do have a happy ending, after all.

Andy Smith