Interview: Marwan Kabha
Maribor has 100,000 new fans

During the international break, we decided to conduct a lengthy interview. We sat down with Marwan Kabha, the third Israeli player to ever wear our purple jersey. Our interesting guest describes himself as an Arab-Palestinian Israeli, who has become fascinated with Maribor for various reasons. Read on if you want to learn more about him.

He came, he saw and he realised he had found what he was looking for. The story of our summer recruit could just as well be summed up with those words, as there are not many examples of a player adapting to his new surroundings as quickly as he did.
“I'm very happy to be here. In this club and in this town. Before coming here I only knew the basic information about the club and had watched two of their matches. But after arriving, things sort of ‘clicked’ into place. I felt like home. It's incredible, it's not something you see very often.”

You can ‘blame’ Santi

If we consider the fact that coming to Maribor was the first time he left his home, his words sound even more amazing. Did you expect things to go this smoothly?
“What's the secret of me adapting so quickly? I must admit, a lot of this is thanks to a guy you all know well. You can ‘blame’ Santi for that. He really helped me a lot, both in the days after I decided to come here and during my first days here in Maribor. He told me all there is to know, he introduced the players, told me the most important things about everyone involved with the club. But a lot of it was due to the fact I came into a nice and friendly group of people. Tavares was here for me from the start and I quickly befriended Mendy and also Ibraimi, who is a Muslim like me and we went to the mosque together. With their help I quickly settled in the new environment and now I have a great relationship with every single player. That's probably also one of the reasons why everything seemed to go so smoothly.”

But this was the first time you left home, which is never easy.
“Before I accepted the offer I asked myself what do I want. There was only one answer to that: I want to succeed! I chose Maribor, because I had a good feeling after talking to my agent and after hearing what Sallalich had to say about the club. It's hard being a professional athlete away from home, there's no doubt about it. But I have a goal, I want to win the league and the cup with Maribor. And as well as that, I want to grow as a player. I've committed everything to this goal. I miss my family, but you have to accept these kinds of sacrifices when you decide to be a professional athlete.”

Marwan Kabha up close and personal. What are your main characteristics?
“I love peace and quiet and I've found that here. Maribor is a nice quiet town. So are the people. I really like living here on the banks of the River Drava. I'm not doing much, so there’s not a lot of chance people will run into me. I'm focused only on football and on pursuing my goals. Religion plays a big role in my life and I'm trying to live my live according to Islam. I don't drink alcohol and I love nature. I go on trips with my wife or my family. Other than that, I have no special characteristics.”

What music do you like?
“I like Arab music. I don't listen to other genres. This is my language and my music.”


My brother makes sure everybody can watch our matches

Despite living in a turbulent country, he and his family have never had any problems. His memories of home and childhood are pleasant.
“My mother was a housekeeper, she took care of the family, and my father worked in a factory. We never had any problems. Until this summer, I lived in Israel my whole life and I have Palestinian ancestors. When somebody asks me, I tell them I'm an Arab-Palestinian Israeli. I respect the country and all its people. To me it doesn’t matter whether they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim. Nor do I don't judge people based on the colour of their skin. And I don't care about the disagreements. We lived in a village near Haifa. It has 1500 inhabitants and we are all one big family. These are my fans and now fans of Maribor as well. But I can say we have got even more fans. All Palestinians with the last name Kabha are now our fans. And there are 100,000 of us. Many of them have been sending me messages and wishing me well on Facebook. For them, Maribor is now a club they follow very closely. My brother created a Facebook page for me and he's posting links regularly, so people can watch live coverage of our matches.”

What does the family say about the Maribor story of their son, their brother? How often do you keep in touch?
“It's something that's very important to me. My family gives me energy. With my dad, I mostly discuss football and he encourages me. My mom, of course, always checks if I get enough to eat. And she says she'll send me a big package of her cooking (he laughs). Because I don't eat pork due to religious reasons and because I'm not one of those people who like to try new things, my family was wondering how I'm going to cope. But Santi and Abel Gigli are my guides when it comes to eating out in Maribor so there are no problems. I'll make up for the things I miss here when I go back to Israel during the winter break. I have two brothers and two sisters, all younger. We keep in touch regularly. I wanted to visit them in Israel for a day or two during the international break, but I couldn't go due to our busy schedule. And the team needs me. I started playing well and I feel well among my teammates. During the break, we left for a short training camp to improve our game and the break was over very quickly.”

Are your brothers involved with football as well?
“The older one quit football and decided to focus on school and he'll go to study in Moldavia. The younger one is a football fanatic. He'll be the star of the family, I can guarantee you that. He's 13 and he's very talented.”

When talking about his family, our 24-year-old midfielder always talks about the importance of the gadgets and the applications that come in handy.
“Viber, WhatsApp, Facetime... These apps make it possible for me to stay in touch. It's true we haven't been apart for a very long time, but we do talk a lot and know there's no other way. I'll wait until the winter break and then I'll have time to spend time with my family. It meant a lot to have my wife here with me, but she had to return to Israel because her visa expired.”

Being satisfied with the second half of 2015 has a lot to do with what he did in the first half of the year.
“It's true. I got married a month before coming to Maribor, which means I made two important decisions in a short space of time. It was a good thing. Had I been here alone during those first days, things would have been harder. This way I had a lot of support during that important phase of adaptation.”


I am furious when I lose

When talking about important events and people, there's someone we can't leave out. Sintayehu Sallalich or Santi to his friends.
“Oh, yes, he was very helpful. He's a great teammate and a friend. I know him from before, from our time in the Israeli national youth team. And faith wanted our paths to cross again in Maribor. I can honestly say Santi prepared me well for what lay ahead. I remember my agent giving me my options and I said I wanted to think about them. But after 5 minutes my mind was made up. With great determination I told him I wanted to join Maribor. Santi played a big part in this decision, but YouTube played an important role as well. When I saw what the fans were like here, there was no dilemma. Such an amazing atmosphere and such great support from the stands. It's a shame more people don't come to our league matches.”

Sadly, that is the reality in Slovenia...
“I know, Sallalich told me how many people come to European matches and that – apart from the derby – the league matches don't attract the same numbers. But I still don't understand this. You support the club, you want the club to succeed. And the fans and the players are one. Only together we can win and qualify for the European matches. I hope more people will come to our matches in the coming months. They give us energy, which is very important and it really helps the team.”

How would you describe Slovenian football based on what you've seen so far? What's the biggest difference between football here and in Israel?
“Well, for one, there's the attendance, as I already mentioned. In Israel, the number of people who come to the matches does not depend on the results so much. And the infrastructure in Israel is better, there are more modern stadiums there. Football is a bit faster. But I like Slovenian football. The scores are high and the style of play is more aggressive. I noticed that right away.”

This is not something that poses a problem to our guest. In a way, aggressiveness is his trademark.
“This has always been my style of play. Now that I've gotten totally acquainted with the league, I can assure you I'll fight on in the future. I want to win every match. I am furious when I lose. Nobody can tell, as I don't show my feelings right away. But when I get home... I can't sleep and there are so many questions I want to find answers to. Why? What went wrong? What should have we done differently? But the following day I'm already motivated for the upcoming match. What happened to us in Koper was unbelievable. We were in the lead, we had the ball in our feet, we had everything under control and then two mistakes led to a defeat... Or the match in Zavrč. We scored three times but still lost. Bad luck followed us for far too long and we had to be patient to get out of that situation. I think now is the time to turn things around.”


Our opponents should fear us

There is no doubt about which result was hardest to take. Astana is the only downside of what so far has been a pleasant experience in Maribor...
“If I said anything else, I'd be lying. I still think about it now and then. I came here to help a team that was very successful in European competitions in the previous seasons. But we lost our second match and that was it. It was a shock and it was something that was very hard to accept. But once more we come to the question of good and bad luck. Why did we go out? Because of two own goals. And then I saw the footage from their matches against Helsinki and how they qualified. It was God's will for Astana to play in the Champions League this year and this is what happened.”

What was your reaction to the change in formation during the season?
“I've played in both systems before and I'm used to them. I think it’s safe to say that half of the time I've played in 4-4-2 formation and half of the time in 4-3-3. I have no problems adapting to either one. I maybe prefer playing as a defensive midfielder, where I can use my anticipation to try and take the ball from the opponent and then help organize the attack. But of course, I accept every idea the coach has. What counts the most is still the team.”

To wrap things up, could you tell us what will Maribor look like in the coming months?
“The crucial thing for us is to regain the respect. The respect from others. Because of our previous results, our opponents didn't fear us. But Maribor has to win and has to strip its rivals of their hope. We are Maribor! I've learned that by now and I completely agree. We are the ones who must be confident. And our opponents are the ones who should fear us. For a while, this was not the case and everybody was brave enough to try and take us on. I'm happy things have turned around and I believe the league table will soon reflect that.”