It was at around 10.25 last night that I realized Omar Kreim is very good at football.
I was spending my Friday evening in much the same way I assume most young(ish) men in the prime of life spend Friday evenings - watching full Montreal Carabin matches on YouTube (search 'carabins soccer masculin' for a treasure trove).
With a focus mainly on HFX Wanderers new boys Omar Kreim and Aboubacar Sissoko, much of what I'd seen in the former's highlight videos was confirmed: he was technical, creative, and extremely tidy with the ball. In the final third he displayed a subtlety that allowed him to link the midfield and attack smoothly. And there were, of course, goals.
But I also noticed something that wasn't really featured in the highlight reel: Kreim is excellent off the ball. He works hard, takes up good defensive positions to blunt opposition attacks, and there's a bit of bite in the tackle, too. It's all this that leaves me convinced he'll be a success in Halifax next season and become a player that fans will quickly warm to. Take a look below to learn a bit more about him before that time comes.
Could you start off by telling us a bit about your younger years? You moved to Canada from Morocco at the age of 7. Was there ever any culture shock?
I was really young so it wasn’t that hard for me to get used to my new life, but some of the first days were hard, principally because of the cold as we arrived in January. Besides that, my integration was very smooth with school, and soccer contributed to that, too.
Was it difficult for you to find other football fans and people to play football with given that Canada is primarily thought of as a hockey country?
Honestly it wasn’t hard because my neighborhood and my school in Montreal were really multicultural. So there were a lot of Latinos and Africans that were playing soccer on a daily basis and I use to always join them.
Which team did you support as a child?
I didn’t support a team specifically but when Guardiola and his famous tiki-taka arrived in Barcelona, I was really amazed with this generation of players!
I loved that team, too. Puyol & Pique were the perfect blend of payers in defence. The balance between Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets made it the most complete midfield of all time. And of course, they had the magician up front. During this period, which players did you admire?
You had trials in Sweden at 18. What was that experience like for you?
It was a really short one, I don’t think it was even for a month. I’d never played with adults before going there so it was a great experience to learn how soccer is played in another country. It was hard to leave my family to live alone in a new country with a new language, and what was offered to me there wasn’t worth all the sacrifices I had to make, so I went back to Canada. But even so I really learned more about myself as a person in that period, rather than specifically just from a soccer perspective.
Returning to Canada after this, you began your career with the Montreal Carabins. How has your time playing with this team developed you as a player?
It was my greatest experience. When I arrived there I was a child in the way that I saw the game and everything around it. The professional approach there really forged the player that I am today. The game philosophy there is always about effort. The talent comes after the effort. I embraced this style and at the same time I was given a lot of liberty offensively so I developed the confidence that makes me a creative player that loves to take chances.
Peter Schaale is a player you’ve played against many times in U-Sports. What kind of opponent is he?
He’s a really solid defender and wins almost all of his headers. He is also really calm with the ball and has good anticipation. So it’ll great to play on the same field as teammates.
Another name in the Wanderers squad you’re familiar with is Aboubacar Sissoko. What attributes does he bring to the table?
Abou is incredible! He wins all his 50/50s, he’s really clean with the ball and even if he’s under pressure he doesn’t lose the ball. Plus he can deliver those perfect long passes across the field.
You both played together with the Carabins. Can you tell us a bit about how you both played in the Carabins system from a tactical perspective? Did you play together as part of a midfielder 2 or 3?
With the Carabins we always played 4-4-2 with a diamond in the middle. Abou was always the 6 and I sometimes played as an 8, sometimes as a 10.
How would you sum up your style? From the footage I’ve seen you look like you could play anywhere across the midfield or attack.
Yeah as I said I can play as an 8 or 10. With the Carabins we didn’t have wingers in our 4-4-2 formation but I was often on the wing because the coach always gave me that liberty on the field. With Blainville, I mostly played as a 10 but sometimes also did a job out wide.
Is there a certain style of play that suits you? Wanderers struggled to keep possession last season and the signings so far suggest that management are building a squad that’s more technical and able to keep the ball better.
Yes, I definitely define myself as a technical player who likes to provoke the opponents with the ball. So I like to receive and keep the ball on the ground. That style is much better for a player of my profile.
You came up against York 9 last season while playing with Blainville. Did it feel like you were playing at a higher level or not all that different from what you were used to?
The level was obviously better than PLSQ or university, but I didn’t have to change anything in my game to suit it. The biggest difference actually was that I had more space than in my university games which I found surprising. I think that maybe at university level the teams tend to press more all over the field so we have less space.
You’ll be moving to Halifax next year. Is it a city you’re familiar with?
Some members of my family already visited the city but not me. They have just good words for Halifax and I’m looking forward to discovering it, too. I’ll read some books to get to know the history of the city because that's something that really interests me.
What are you most looking forward to next season?
I’ve heard that the fans in Halifax are awesome so I just want to give them what they deserve. And for me, on the pitch there’s nothing stopping us from aiming for the top of the CanPL.
Take a look at Omar in action below.
And that will probably be it for 2019. I'll be profiling a selection of the new signings over the coming months with interviews like this and other kinds of articles, too. Thanks to everyone that's read this blog over the past year.
Have a lovely holiday season however you choose to celebrate it. Cheers,