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London 2012: Another wasted chance for Egyptian Youth?
Frankly this tournament was yet another failure in which we did not give a thought to the future of the sport in this country.
With the option to take up to three overage players (the tournament is an Under 23 competition), Egypt decided to take Mohamed Aboutreika, Ahmed Fathi, and Emad Meteb. The latter needs no introduction, as I’m sure by now most of you have heard his name spoken of with great rage by everyone from friends to taxi drivers due to his poor and anonymous displays in every game he started. While Meteb played virtually every minute, promising young forward Marwan Mohsen (the U-23 team top scorer) barely got a full 90 throughout the entire tournament, despite scoring after coming on for Meteb in our penultimate match.
Fathi was responsible for the role of right back and again found himself playing every match in place of Omar Gaber, who provided an assist in the Belarus game when coming on for his more “experienced” team mate. The last of the older trio, Mohamed Aboutreika, found himself playing the role of fulcrum for the team, dictating Egypt’s play. Granted, he did have a great tournament, being involved in 5 of the teams 6 goals. But remember that young offensive midfielder, the one with a lot of potential who could be Egypt’s next rising star? No? Well that’s because there wasn’t one. While Aboutreika had a great tournament he took the place of a potential rising star that could have been one pass away from sealing a move to a club in a stronger league. Some fans view criticism of Aboutreika as blasphemy, but this mentality needs to change. People need to stop thinking about his history and his individual performance in the tournament, and think about how an opportunity was lost for someone to display their skill and credentials to be a new offensive spark for Egypt.
All three players took the opportunity for someone else to shine, and most of these youths wont get this chance again. A quick look at the Brazil team shows that not one of them, senior or youth, has played more than 30 games for the senior side. Compare that to the average of 78 caps for our 3 seniors. Some will argue that they were there to pass on their “experience.” However, many of the teams that took overage players, took those they thought could support the young stars, not steal the show and drive the play. Egypt got white washed in a match by a Japan team with only one over aged player and he was at the ripe old age of 27. Even Mexico, eventual 2-1 winners over Brazil, had an average of 43 caps for their seniors. Even that figure is skewed by Carlos Salcido, with over 100 caps and the remaining two having a combined total of 27.
The young hopes of Ahmed Hegazy, Islam Ramadan, and Mohamed Salah had very good tournaments. Two of them have already secured moves to European sides that will help their development tremendously. They have all represented Egypt in FIFA Under 20 World Cups and were able to reach the knockout rounds with amazing team performances. Mohamed Ibrahim, a player who did not make it to the Olympics, became the first person from Africa to score a hat trick in a FIFA U20 World Cup. Nobody can honestly say that if he were chosen instead of Aboutreika that Egypt would have had a worse tournament performance. Thinking the contrary is detrimental to the progression of youth in Egyptian society as a whole, not just in football.
The hope is that every single young player on this Olympic team will be a part of the senior set up come World Cup 2014, where Egypt will look to break the 24 year jinx of not appearing in the showpiece event. This cant be done if we don’t emphasize the search and push of young talent.
The average age of the senior squad to appear in the last international match was 26.8 years old. If we assume that this will be the squad to make it to Brazil in 2 years time, then that means we would have a squad with an average age of 28.8. To put that into perspective, the oldest squad in the 2010 World cup finals had an average age of 28.7(England). Compare that to Spain who won the world cup, 25.9, and Germany who electrified the tournament, 25. Youth makes a difference, and the best example of this is Ghana, with an average age of 24, the youngest team at the finals, was a penalty kick away from being the first African team to ever reach the semi finals. What Ghana did was quite simple. They took their best players from the 2009 U20 WC, and rewarded them with the chance of staring roles for the senior squad.
Our last tournament success in the African Cup of 2010 had an average age of 28. The argument here is that the team won. Well yes, certainly when you suspend the national league for a month so that your team has a few weeks more to prepare than the African players who are leaving their European clubs during their seasons, you are bound to have an advantage aren’t you? Lets not forget all the talk was about that amazing young Ghana team that we beat in the final, who went on to shine at the World Cup – the only tournament clubs take seriously when looking for new talent.
So why are we afraid to take a risk on the young guns? What’s wrong with benching senior players who have had their chance and have a maximum of 2 years left to play when we can give a shot to someone who could be a star for 10? We need to stop accepting mediocrity, and remove our insecurities. Enough of the elevating of players to a point where they are absolved of criticism, where their position is unquestioned, and where we treat them like gods of the arena, when in fact its them who have the pleasure of playing for the best fans in the world bar none. We need to be brave and take risks that have more than half a chance of taking Egyptian football to the next level.
Follow Karim Salama on Twitter.