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Sutton United striker discusses time with Lebanon national team

You might think few footballers in the National League could dream of playing internationally, however Sutton United and Lebanon striker Omar Bugiel is an exception.

Bugiel, who was born in Berlin to a Lebanese father and Polish mother, moved to the UK ten years ago with the intention of learning English before going back to Germany to study.

However, he started playing Sunday league football and stayed in Britain, progressing to Worthing before signing for Forest Green Rovers in 2017.

He helped fire the club to promotion to League Two that year, and a few days later got a call from Lebanon manager Miodrag Radulović.

Bugiel said: “It was a foreign number and I thought ‘I don’t know who this is, I’m not going to answer’.

“After I ignored the call, I got a message from Radulović, who was manager for the national team.

“He said: ‘Look, obviously I see you’re eligible to play, what is your situation? I see you’ve been doing well for Forest Green ever since you’ve done the step up and I would love to have you on board.’

“He asked me to come to Lebanon, get my passport sorted and be available for the Asian Cup qualifying games which I believe were like a week later.”

This call-up was a well-deserved reward for Bugiel, who nearly gave up football after being released by 1860 Munich as a 16-year-old.

He said: “I thought I was just going to give up and then suddenly five, six years later I’m travelling with the team playing Malaysia away in the Asian Cup qualifying rounds.

“At the time I couldn’t really believe it. I said I’d take the opportunity because I don’t think it’s ever going to come around like that, playing at the national level, I thought it was a massive thing and I had to go for it.”

Bugiel made his international debut against Singapore in 2017, and currently has seven caps and one goal to his name.

One standout from his international career so far has been two trips to the famously isolated North Korea, which the striker surprisingly enjoyed.

He said: “Once the call up came to be selected for the squad to go to North Korea I was very shocked really because I didn’t know what to expect, you hear all them things but once we got there everything was honestly sweet.

“We had phones available at the hotel but that was quite pricey. I think last time I had a phone call with my partner and it was like $20 for a five minute chat, which is ridiculous but she was obviously concerned to see how everything was going.

“We didn’t really speak to anyone because we weren’t allowed, and taking photos once again we had to ask for permission, but I really enjoyed my time out there.

“Usually with social media it distracts you from doing what you’re meant to be doing, so it was a great opportunity to build and bond with the team, learning more about them and on both journeys, I really enjoyed it.

“I would love to go back, but hopefully this summer I’ll have some Wi-Fi and can speak to my partner and my little daughter, but we’ll see about that one!”

Being able to visit such varied locations is something Bugiel feels immensely privileged to experience.

He added: “Travelling from the UK, you’ve got to fly minimum of eight to ten hours and then meet the team at Dubai and go from there, so you travel a fair distance.

“I think it’s all worth it in the end because you can relax, do your own thing, do some work, and even read a book, because I never used to do that but now I’ve got older I find stuff like that really interesting.

“It’s great to see different places and experience that because when you play football you never really get the time off, especially in the UK around Christmas time.

“The only time off is really over the summertime but now with this pandemic it’s a bit different.”

COVID-19 has affected Bugiel like everyone else, preventing him from playing in Lebanon’s recent matches in the interests of his family and teammates’ welfare.

He said: “The team is currently in Dubai but I’m not able to go. I just believe it’s not the right time because I’ve got a job to do with Sutton United and of course looking after my family”.

He hopes to get reintegrated with the team soon, with Lebanon going strong in their World Cup qualifying group, sitting level with South Korea and only one point off leaders Turkmenistan.

He added: “We’ve got a good chance, we’ve got a great team, young, hungry players and it’s just one of those things where you never know what could happen really.

“It’s something we need to go for because if we don’t do it right that opportunity might never come again.”

Sutton United recently thanked fans for their support as the club navigates the difficulties of the global pandemic.

Featured image credit: Omar Bugiel

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