Berliner AK have been one of the surprise packages of this still-young Regionalliga Nordost season. While everyone associated with the club is quick to point to the group’s collective unity and quality as the chief driving force behind their success, there is one man who invariably receives most of the plaudits; a man who has made it his mission to put balls in goals and bums on seats.
That man is none other than Nader Jindaoui, social media influencer extraordinaire and veritable goal machine. The 24-year-old has been on fire so far this season, scoring five goals in as many games and helping his unfancied team reach the lofty heights of second in the table, level on points with arguably the league’s biggest revelation, Luckenwalde. Undoubtedly the highlight of this nascent season has been his 18-minute hattrick against Union Fürstenwalde on matchday four.
So, then, who is this Nader Jindaoui guy? He is a very interesting character, to say the least. It doesn’t happen all too often that someone who’s never even remotely come close to playing at the highest level enjoys what can only be described as borderline celebrity status. But then again, he’s not your average footballer. Earlier this year, the Berlin-born winger released a video on his YouTube channel explaining why he has never been able to make it in the big time. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, his body simply broke down.
Discovered by then-second-tier outfit Energie Cottbus at 14, the talented youngster swiftly rose through the academy ranks, so that by age 17, he was training with the first team. Unfortunately, an epileptic seizure and subsequent medical maltreatment prevented any prospective breakthrough. “Some doctor prescribed me pills that sucked the vitamin D out of my bones, and I developed a bone disorder,” he revealed in the above-mentioned video. “Initially, I missed a couple of weeks, then several months, then the club didn’t want me anymore.”
He joined Chemnitzer FC in neighboring Saxony, but that engagement ceased after just a year. Eventually, he ended up a free agent because, “the doctors told me that I would never play football again.” Fortunately, he found someone who was able to successfully treat his illness and get him on the road to recovery. His blessings didn’t stop there, either. Back in Berlin, Adidas found out about his story, what he had gone through, and that he was quite a talented footballer, so they featured him in some promotional content and helped him get back on his feet.
He tried out for several different clubs in the summer of 2018, but nobody wanted to sign someone who had missed a year with an unpredictable injury – “my world collapsed.” It wasn’t until November that he would get another chance to prove himself when he went on trial with Regionalliga side Babelsberg and immediately impressed. The Potsdam outfit decided to take a punt on him and handed him a contract. The very next day, before the ink had even properly dried on his deal, he was already starting for them in a competitive fixture.
After showing what he was still capable of during his time at Babelsberg, he devised a plan which he hoped would help him finally secure that elusive shot at professional football: get into a 2. Bundesliga side by way of their reserves. He signed for Greuther Fürth II, but despite dazzling, no promotion was forthcoming, “so I thought ‘okay, now I have to take matters into my own hands.'” He compiled his playing highlights on a USB drive and passed it on to one of the club’s executives. It worked. He was invited to join the first team in their training camp in Turkey, but as fate would have it, he was again struck down by injury.
Long story short, his malady hadn’t healed properly. Again, he was told that he would never play football again. Again, he overcame adversity. Using the same logic that almost got him into the second division, he went a step further this time around and applied for a spot in the reserves of then-Bundesliga side Fortuna Düsseldorf. He got a contract, but another injury and off-field issues with poor living conditions meant that he was never able to truly settle and recapture his old form.
It was around this time that he got back together with his teenage sweetheart, Louisa. The YouTube channel they started together grew to become their main source of income and things began looking up for him, which in turn allowed him to then fully shift his focus back onto the football. He eventually returned to his hometown and signed for Berliner AK. “This time, I didn’t have any grand plans. I just wanted to play football like back in the old days, for the fun of it.” Evidently, this was the right decision as he’s been flourishing since returning to a more settled and familiar environment.
During all of this, his social media influence has steadily grown to a point where he can now be considered a celebrity, at least in lower league football terms. He boasts more than a million followers on Instagram, his YouTube channel, Jindaouis, has amassed north of 800 thousand subscribers, and the videos on there regularly crack the million-view mark. Of course, his footballing career can’t simply be divorced from all of this. If anything, his stardom helps his club; he’s their main attraction.
In the grand scheme of football in the city, Berliner AK are a fairly insignificant, small operation. Other than having served as a stepping stone for coaches like Jens Härtel and Steffen Baumgart, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the club. Jindaoui’s arrival changed all of that, though. On the opening day of this season, 2000 supporters turned up to watch their man notch the winner against promotion hopefuls Jena. After the match, as he was swarmed by fans begging for selfies and autographs, he told Bild: “Sadly, I was only allowed to sell 700 tickets.”
It was a similar story at their second home game. Again, the stadium was sold out. Again, the BAK faithful went home content having watched their team defeat city rivals Tennis Borussia, even if Jindaoui didn’t manage to get on the scoresheet. They’ve only played at home twice thus far, so please take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt, but their current average attendance sits at 2000, that’s four times as much as they managed in any of the past five seasons.
Obviously, Jindaoui’s influence also extends beyond just his immediate vicinity on any given matchday. Not only does he put bums on stadium seats, he also puts them on couches. Last Sunday, BAK faced Chemnitz in the main event of the round. The game was broadcast on YouTube by OstSportTV and has accrued almost 94,000 views since then. By comparison, the previous fixture to be streamed on there barely cracked the 5000 mark. If that’s impressive, wait until you hear that their opening day encounter with Jena has amassed more than 100,000 views. Even the matches involving the league’s powerhouses like Cottbus and Lok Leipzig don’t remotely get close to 50,000 clicks, let alone 100,000.
Five games into the season, Berliner AK are still unbeaten thanks in no small part to the inspired form of their charismatic number seven. This is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing and unique storylines not just in the Regionalliga or German football but European football at large. It’s definitely one to keep an eye on as the season progresses. Can they keep this up or is it just a flash in the pan?
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