Shokhan Nooraldin Salihi: Kurdish Trailblazer in Saudi Women’s Soccer

In the bustling landscape of Arab women’s soccer, a luminous star has emerged, hailing from Erbil in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and captivating the Saudi Women’s Premier League

Shokhan Nooraldin Salihi: Kurdish Trailblazer in Saudi Women’s Soccer
February 26, 2024

In the bustling landscape of Arab women’s soccer, a luminous star has emerged, hailing from Erbil in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and captivating the Saudi Women’s Premier League (SWPL). Born in Kirkuk in 2000, Shokhan Nooraldin Salihi, or Shokhan, has ascended to the forefront of the SWPL, serving as the prominent forward for the Saudi club Al Hilal. 

Her extraordinary prowess has shone through on the pitches of Saudi Arabia, with Shokhan racking up an impressive tally of 43 goals in 14 matches last season, securing her the title of top scorer in the league.

This meteoric rise culminated in a historic feat in November 2022, when Shokhan single-handedly notched 15 goals against Saudi club Sama. Such a stellar performance has rightfully earned her comparisons to Erling Haaland, the celebrated record-breaking Norwegian soccer striker in the English Premier League. 

These performances led to Shokhan’s nomination for the prestigious 2023 Arab Footballer of the Year award. Reflecting on the nomination, Shokhan expressed her profound sentiment, “Being nominated as a Kurdish representative for the Best Arab Player of the Year award is an immense honor. I stand as the inaugural player from Iraq to receive this nomination, a significant milestone for Kurdish women everywhere.”

Born goal-scorer

Throughout her journey from Erbil to Riyadh, Shokhan has exceled on the pitch and afforded her the privilege of sharing a team with renowned global soccer icons. “Playing alongside talents like Brazilian maestro Neymar is a humbling experience,” the Kurdish player remarked. “The caliber of soccer in Saudi Arabia, with stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, rivals the best leagues in Europe. While I harbored hopes of Lionel Messi joining Al Hilal, the presence of numerous other luminaries in our club is testament to its strength.”

Shokhan’s acclaim transcends borders, evident in the tempting offers that she received from five German clubs, including Borussia Dortmund and Leipzig, during the preceding summer transfer window. However, her allegiance remains steadfast as she renewed her contract with Al Hilal for an additional three years. “I am immensely pleased by the respect and trust shown towards me by the club. It’s a privilege to not only represent myself but to also foster a deeper understanding of Kurdish culture among the players and people of Saudi Arabia. I take immense pride in being an ambassador for my people in the realm of Saudi and Arab soccer,” she affirmed.

The genesis of Shokhan’s sporting journey dates to 2017 when she traversed various sports disciplines, including futsal – an indoor, soccer-based game played on a hardcourt – for the Erbil Women’s Club and handball. Her triumphs include clinching the Kurdistan and Iraqi league titles with Erbil and then Qala w Mnara in Jordan and Tunisia. Notably, in 2019, she secured the top scorer and player titles in the Arab Women’s Handball Championship in Jordan, exhibiting her mettle with an astounding tally of 50 goals across five games.

Transition to soccer

Reflecting on her formative years, the Kurdish player reminisced, “My ardor for sports was ignited during my childhood days, when I played volleyball, handball, and futsal in Erbil’s schoolyards. Becoming a professional athlete and representing the women of Kurdistan was a lifelong aspiration.” Her initiation into futsal at Erbil Women’s Club under the tutelage of Captain Mazen Mohammed marked the inception of her remarkable journey.

Mazen Mohammed, recalling Shokhan’s transition from handball to soccer, remarked, “In 2017, witnessing Shokhan’s prowess in handball, I sensed her potential to flourish in soccer. Her remarkable speed, innate talent, and finesse made her a perfect fit for our futsal team.” 

This transition saw Shokhan triumph in the Kurdistan Women’s Premier League, clinching the title of top scorer with an impressive tally of 60 goals. Her recent triumph in securing the Iraqi Cup further solidified her standing as a prolific goal scorer in the league.

Her influence, however, extends beyond club accolades, as she plays a pivotal role within the Iraqi national team. Her crowning achievement came at the West Asian Cup in Saudi Arabia two years ago, when she not only lifted the trophy but also claimed the tournament’s title of top scorer, netting an impressive eight goals.

As Shokhan continues to script her growing legacy on the soccer pitch, her journey stands as a testament to perseverance, talent, and the boundless potential that transcends geographical borders, inspiring generations and shattering barriers along the way.

Soran Luqman is a professional sports journalist who has worked for various local Kurdish sports media outlets.

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