Two weeks after Usama Abdul Mohsen and his youngest son were sent tumbling to the grass during their mad dash across the Hungarian border, this Syrian soccer coach who became a refugee — then a symbol of Europe’s humanitarian crisis — is now being greeted as a celebrity in Spain.
Abdul Mohsen's arrival there was broadcast on live television. Taxi drivers and bartenders know his story. During a Real Madrid match, his son, 7-year-old Zaid, was invited onto the field with soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. And Abdul Mohsen already has an apartment and the promise of a new job, courtesy of the CENAFE soccer academy.
His life now, he told NBC News, “is like a dream.”
That new life can be attributed, in part, to the academy’s director, Miguel Galan, who read in a local newspaper about how Abdul Mohsen had been tripped by a Hungarian camera operator on the Serbian border.
War had forced the 52-year-old father to flee Al-Raqqa for Turkey with his wife and four children, but they couldn’t find work there. So Abdul Mohsen set off for Europe with Zaid, with plans for the rest of his family to join them later. The boy was wrapped around his father’s chest when they reached the border.
Zaid believed that security forces tripped his father, although he later learned it was a journalist, identified as Petra Laszlo. She had told news outlets that she became skittish by the sight of so many people charging toward her and reacted out of panic.
Zaid said he cried over the experience — but he also wanted to get back at the camerawoman.
“'If I ever see that woman again, I want to fight her,” the boy told NBC News.
Galan also read about how Abdul Mohsen was a professional soccer coach in Syria. Instantly, the Spanish coach wanted to help the Syrian coach.
“There was a brotherhood,” he told NBC News.
So Galan reached out to a Spanish reporter, who contacted Abdul Mohsen. The academy offered the refugee an apartment in a Madrid suburb and a job — even though it's unclear whom he’ll be coaching and he doesn’t yet meet the gig’s one perquisite: He must speak Spanish.
For that, Abdul Mohsen is taking Spanish-language immersion lessons, which began Monday. Now, he just hopes the rest of his family can finally make it to Madrid. That would happen with the help of Galan.
In a move showing his generosity, the Spanish coach told NBC News he is helping the entire family apply for asylum.