Hakeem Al-Araibi aiming for quick Pascoe Vale return


Two thoughts dominated the mind of refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi during his time in a Thai prison: his wife and returning to the football pitch.

Throughout three nervous months in custody amid the threat of being extradited to his birth country of Bahrain, the Melbourne-based 25-year-old kept his focus on the game.

After touching down at Tullamarine on Tuesday Al-Araibi told former Socceroos captain and SBS chief football analyst Craig Foster he was fit to start playing for his semi-professional Melbourne club Pascoe Vale.

"He said 'I feel strong Craig, I feel strong, I have been training in prison'," Foster told reporters.

"That's how much he loves the game."

The club's next Victorian Premier League game is on Thursday against Heidelberg United and Foster flagged an appearance by Al-Araibi, although maybe his return will be saved for next week's home game against Bentleigh.

"They should think about giving him one minute (on Thursday) but I hope not because next Friday will be a home game," he said.

"We'll all be coming down for that."

Pascoe Vale's home ground CB Smith Reserve holds up to 2,000 people and Foster forecast a capacity crowd.

Club official Lou Tona was looking forward to having his prized defender back on the field.

"I get a lot of banter from the guys in the change rooms but not from Hakeem, maybe that'll change now," Mr Tona said.

"He's just a really, quiet, unassuming, and respectful person ... but when he's on the park, he's a lion."

A former Bahraini national team player, Al-Araibi said he fled the country due to political repression and feared torture if he returned.

He was taken into custody in November after arriving in Thailand with his wife for their honeymoon. Bahrain had sought his extradition citing a 10-year jail sentence for damaging a police station in 2012. Al-Araibi denies the crime.

Al-Araibi's imprisonment, during which he was shackled, attracted global attention.

Juventus star Giorgio Chiellini, Didier Drogba, Gary Lineker and Jamie Vardy were some of the stars who publicly backed the #SaveHakeem campaign.

The global footballers' union FIFPro and the World Players' Association each lobbied hard on his behalf.

Source AAP