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Pharaohs in Belgium: Maged Samy’s Lierse SK
Lierse’s Egyptian owner has brought many home comforts to Het Lisp since buying the club, signing many Egyptians talents alongside their already continental side.
For a long time now, many Egyptian football fans (including me) have been frustrated with the lack of our representation in European football. Even after winning the African Cup of Nations three times consecutively, you can still currently count the number of Pharaohs in Europe with your fingers. Fulham, Hull City and a few other European clubs are owned by Egyptians, but only one club is taking the initiative to showcase Egyptian talent: Lierse SK.
Maged Samy is an Egyptian business man who up until 2007 only owned Wadi Delga – an Egyptian Real Estate company and football club since 2002. Wadi Degla is the first privately owned football club in Egypt, and as of recent, has one of the best (if not the best) youth setups in the country. Afterwards, Samy added Belgium’s Lierse SK and KV Turhout to his tally of owned clubs. Besides Wadi Degla being partnered with his two Belgian sides, they also are tied with Arsenal FC and the JMG Academy. Clearly we don’t need to be reminded of Arsenal’s brilliant youth academy, so let’s talk about JMG instead. JMG is a youth development program in the Ivory Coast and every year Wadi Degla can choose two U12 players. Some previous names to come out of JMG include the Toure brothers, Kalou, Zokora and the list goes on.
During the 2007-2008 season, all of Maged’s clubs weren’t in their countries’ top tier. Lierse and Turhout were both in Belgium’s second division while Degla were in Egypt’s third. Samy could only give the Degla sponsorship to one club in Belgium, preferring Lierse. This decision was definitely not a hard one since Lierse are a decorated side in Belgium having won the league 4 times among other honours only to be relegated in 2006. Shortly after Samy’s arrival Lierse began investing in Egyptian crop purchasing Mohamed ‘Mo’ Abdel-Wahed, Ahmed Samir, Islam Shokry, Sherif El Bialy and youngster Youssef Fawaz. It’s important to note that these players were nowhere near being the hottest prospects of the Egyptian Premier League (EPL) they were simply consistent and affordable. The only signing that stood out was Wahed. From 2001-2003 he was one of Egypt’s rising stars having won various trophies with Egyptian giants Zamalek and a bronze medal in Egypt’s U-20 World Cup campaign in Argentina. He failed to live up to his hype afterwards in Egypt and made the best choice of his career signing for Lierse.
The only time I can recall Egyptian fans monitoring Belgian football was when Ahmed Hassan was still making a name for himself with Anderlecht. Ahmed Hassan’s Egyptian fan club later lost concern over Belgian football after his departure, let alone their second division. When the 2008-2009 season hit Lierse signed one of the most promising Egyptians, Mohamed ‘Dodo’ Elgabas.
Having failed to stand out with Newcastle United’s youth team Dodo returned to Egypt in 2007 to his first club Masry. In his first season back he scored 9 goals in the country’s top flight aged just 21 catching Maged’s attention. Mo and Dodo stood out amongst the rest of the Egyptians and quickly repaid Maged Samy’s faith with their influential and consistent displays for Lierse. The Yellow and Black army returned to the Jupiler Pro League after a successful 09-10 campaign. Ironically Degla won promotion to the EPL in the same season even though they were in Egypt’s third division the season before.
Maged Samy previously stated that if he makes it to the JPL he hopes to still own a club in the second division so that he can loan his younger players down. Till this date KV Turhout are still down there and he loaned three Lierse players to them this season, including the two Egyptians Yousef Fawaz and Hamada Lamloum. Recently he’s also been more active with Wadi Degla loaning Jesus Gomez there to impress last season and signing Sherif Fayed the other way. The 19-year old Sherif was Maged’s first signing from the parent club but suffered from a serious injury scare shortly after. Lierse also attempted (but failed) to lure Ahmed Hassan and Hadary the season they were promoted. It is not difficult to see that Maged and his staff do and will continue to keep an eye out on players in the Egyptian market. I don’t believe it’s solely due to Samy’s patriotism as he’s signed several non-Egyptians from that league including Ayew, Gilberto and Mensah. I believe the reason is linked with his familiarity of the EPL and because the Egyptian market isn’t as inflated European leagues. The best player in Egypt could easily go for under €4 million. Not a bad bargain in a country that was not long ago rated 9th in the world right? I know it’s just the FIFA rankings but you get my point.
Troubles at home and a coming of age led to Mo being transferred to Wadi Degla. Mo’s last game for Lierse was a friendly against Levante this summer. He received a standing ovation from the Yellow and Black supporters when he was substituted before half time. This gesture alone signifies the cult status he achieved with the club after approximately 4 years. I believe Dodo is next in line to shine, still at a tender age and now a regular in the starting XI. He received a couple call ups from the Egyptian National team after impressive spells with the club including the playoffs last year, scoring 4 goals in 4 appearances. His goals continued to rain down through preseason. I do see him being an integral part in the rebuilding of Egypt’s national team soon enough.
Lierse recently announced the signings of 2 new players from the EPL on their official website, Ashour El Takky and Hussein Yasser. 31-year-old attacking midfielder Ashour agreed to join the club on loan from Degla being their top scorer with 8 goals last season. Having only taken part in Lierse’s training sessions Ashour requested to return home stating that he is experiencing family problems. Even before the U-turn I thought that El-Takky was overall a bad signing for the club. It was clear Maged wanted to abuse being able to easily shift players between his clubs to grind out the final goals Ashour had in him. Being slightly old in the world of football it was clear that he wouldn’t be a permanent signing for the club, it was simply a temporary solution for goals.
I was much more impressed after hearing Lierse announced the signing of 29-year-old playmaker Hussein Yasser on a 2-year deal. The former Manchester City and Braga man who plays for the Qatar national team is definitely one of the most influential talents in the Egyptian League. He dished out multiple assists and scored 5 goals last season. Hussein claimed to have terminated his contract (which lasts till 2014) with Zamalek after not receiving his wages for 3-months prior to signing for Lierse.
Unfortunately everything has gone downhill since the club’s announcement. Zamalek (who are going through major financial difficulties) said they have now paid Yasser’s wages in full and will take legal action if Yasser doesn’t return to the club after missing some training sessions. Egyptian reports are now confirming that Yasser has apologized and will return to training with Zamalek regularly. On the other hand, after Lierse heard these reports they have demanded Yasser’s International Transfer Certificate, only to be rejected by the Egyptian FA. This deal may result with a FIFA intervention, Lierse seem to be losing the battle at the moment but the war is definitely not over.
I definitely see Lierse still lurking in the EPL before the close of this transfer window, whether Maged can clinch a couple signings or not, he seems destined to make some enemies.