At first, Jeremiah White looked like the one who got away. Many thought the speedy, 27-year-old winger with Philly ties would sign with Philadelphia Union after he left AGF Aarhus in the Danish league in December. It didn’t happen. Instead, he now plays for Al-Ettifaq in Dammam, Saudi Arabia.
But White hasn’t closed the door on the Union after all. In an interview with the Philly Soccer Page, White said he would like to eventually come home to play for Philadelphia Union.
PSP: Why did you sign with Al-Ettifaq?
JW: I signed with Al-Ettifaq because I have always wanted to play and live in the Middle East, plus the offer was one that I doubt many teams could offer given this financial climate.
PSP: You’re one of three Europe-based players that signed with Al-Ettifaq this winter. Is your club making a push to bring in more Europe-based players, and if so, why?
JW: The club has 4 foreign players now as the team just signed a striker from the national team of Oman. There are foreign player limitations in the Saudi and Qatari leagues. I also had a fantastic offer in Qatar, but the restrictions prevented me from taking it. I think I am in the right place regardless since the Saudi league is the strongest in all of the Middle East and Asia. I always assumed the J league was the best, but after seeing the teams and players that have come through this league I saw what people meant. I also had an offer from the J league that was for 4 years.
PSP: How long is your contract for?
JW: 6 months to start to see how I settle in and then another year extension if things are smooth.
PSP: What is life in the Middle East like for you so far, as an American and a Christian?
JW: It’s pretty interesting. Things are so laid back its unbelievable. I have made a lot of friends. I live in a city called Al Khobar and there are many Americans and British people living here. Saudi Aramco is right here so you have a lot of foreign people and companies that are represented here. We are right on the Persian Gulf so things are very laid back and not as strict as in the capital city.
As a Christian, I look to find the points of commonality. We are all related through Abraham. I have come here with an open mind. Without getting to deep into what i have observed I will say that just like there are many Christians who go to church and don’t truly practice Christianity you have the same thing here among Muslims. The same hang-ups that exist in the Christian church are visible here despite the fact that the religion is integrated into the political system and into the daily requirements. As Christians, we are told to pray unceasingly, but how many do? In Islam they pray 5 times a day, but how many people rush of to sin in between prayers? The bible says 1 man in a thousand is truly righteous. I believe that. If anyone wants to talk about the issue more they are free to contact me by e-mail. Wjacksonw3@hotmail.com
(PSP NOTE: White is typically pretty open about his Christian faith, which prompted this question. He stressed after the interview that he’s not “here to solve any religious conflict, but to really appreciate the culture and love the people. “I have made a lot of good friends that I will keep even when I move back to America.”)
JW: The guys on the team welcomed me like a brother instantly. I think that it trips them out that i look like I’m from the Middle East. They think it’s really cool to have an American on the team. People here really like Americans. When we tear down all of the things that create divisions, we all do pretty much the same things.
PSP: How would you compare the quality of play in Saudi Arabia to the Danish league?
JW: It’s more technical but less physical. The skill level is very high here.
PSP: What happened with Philadelphia Union?
JW: I spoke to the coach, and he said he will wait for me.
PSP: Did you want to sign with Philadelphia Union?
JW: Yes, I would love to sign for the Union.
PSP: Why didn’t you?
JW: Financially….and I have really wanted to live in the Middle East or the Far East. The world is huge and I want to see it. If i can see the world and get paid to play the game I love, I would be nuts not to. I speak several languages and I’m learning Arabic. These things add value.
PSP: Did the Union and MLS offer you a contract? What was the offer?
JW: It didn’t get that far.
PSP: How far do you think Major League Soccer is from a situation where they legitimately compete financially for players like you?
JW: I don’t know. When I come home to play in Philadelphia, it’s going to be very special for me. I still have a lot of good years left. When I come home, I’m not looking at it like a guy who is just trying to get a paycheck and make ends meet. I take coming home to play very seriously. I love Philadelphia and when I get there, if they will have me, I will do everything I can for the team to be the best.
PSP: What kind of ties to the Philadelphia area do you still have?
JW: My family. My dad lives in Elkins Park. My mom lives in Lansdowne. I went to the Haverford School. My grandmother lives in Buckingham. My brother and his wife live in West Philly. I am close to people in EPYSA, most of the high school soccer teams in the southeast PA region, FC Delco, Lansdowne Boys Club, Greater Chester Valley. My mother works for the City on the Philadelphia Marathon. I have a lot more ties, but those are just a few. I think I know someone directly or 1 person removed in about every corner of the region. Also, I have a lot of friends in the large Liberian community in Philadelphia. There is a huge African population that LOVES football. My very good friend lives in Philadelphia and was a financial adviser to George Weah when he was playing in France and Italy.
PSP: How do you think Philadelphia will do as a professional soccer market?
JW: We have to see. I think that it could be great if the team is strong from the beginning.
PSP: Does the Delaware Valley have a good soccer environment for young players to come up through? What could be improved?
JW: Yes, I think people should follow FC Delco’s model.
PSP: Do you plan to follow Philadelphia Union once they begin play, and would you like to play for them some day?
JW: Yes, they are my favorite team in the MLS. Of course I want to play for them.
PSP: What are your goals for your soccer career from here on out?
JW: Besides playing for the Union, let’s see what doors open in the future. For now, I am focused on my current job.