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Tribute to Mahmoud El-Gohary: The Coach, The General, The Legend
On September 3rd, 2012, Egyptian football lost one of its greatest coaches of all time, Mahmoud El-Gohary, at the age of 74. A man well known for his zero tolerance policy, as well as his rigid defensive tactics, El-Gohary was able to guide his teams to heights, at times unimaginable; especially with the Egyptian national team, which he managed on four different occasions.
El-Gohary, Egypt’s longest serving boss, managed to change the mindset of every Egyptian football fan. The fans would chant his name in the stadiums, through the ups and downs, in recognition of his generous services towards the national side.
El-Gohary wasn’t a man of controversies, however, he was a solid disciplinarian. The tactical genius managed to guide Egypt to their first World Cup appearance in 56 years, the 1990 edition in Italy. He managed to add the African Cup of Nations to his resume, becoming the only African to win the tournament as a player and a coach.
Modern Egyptian football owes all its recent success to El-Gohary. The Cairo born coach built the basics for a professional domestic league that would allow players to move from one club to another. He carried the Egyptian football away from the amateur style and started laying down the foundation to the professional systems we’d continue to build upon today. Although the system he built from scratch had its flaws, it was the ground stone of which the Egyptian football stands higher today.
Although always opting to stay away from controversies, El-Gohary couldn’t retain a place away from problems. He will always be remembered for managing Al Ahly, his boyhood club, and Zamalek afterwards, their archrivals. However, he managed to guide both sides to CAF Champions League glory.
Before El-Gohary’s reign with the Egyptian national team, all the coaches shared the belief of fielding older players on the expense of the younger ones; believing that the experience factor was the most decisive one. However, El-Gohary was the first to introduce a starting 11 mixed with both seniors and youth players. He selected the versatile defender Hany Ramzy, aged 18, and Hossam Hassan, who were 21 years old then to the 1990 World Cup qualifiers. The latter scored Egypt’s winning goal in a thriller against Algeria to secure Egypt’s place in Italia ’90.
On club level, who would forget the 1984 Al Ahly team coached by El-Gohary that was comprised mainly of youth players due to the crisis at the club back then, when over 16 players from the senior squad were suspended. This team famously known as ‘The Students’ were able to beat a star-studded Zamalek side 3-2 in one of the most memorable results in Egyptian football recent history.
‘The General’, as he was called by most Egyptians, was courageous enough not to pick Ahly’s Taher Abou-Zeid in the 1990 World Cup starting eleven, thus picking Hossam Hassan – who’s now the national team’s top scorer in history. Under his guidance, Egypt produced three terrific counter-attacking displays at the World Cup, including two draws against Ireland, and the European champions then, Netherlands. Egypt suffered a 1-0 loss to England, which eliminated the team from the prestigious tournament.
El-Gohary was surprisingly dismissed from his national duties after the World Cup following a 6-1 friendly defeat to Greece. However, everyone called upon the return of the General whenever the national side under-performed.
President Hosni Mubarak ordered him to lead the team again at the 1992 African Cup of nations in Senegal. However, he had very little time to improve the team, which was eliminated in the first round.
El-Gohary then enjoyed a very successful third spell. He was criticized by everyone for picking Hossam Hassan, 32 years old then, to the squad heading to Burkina Faso for the 1998 African Cup of Nations. However, the target man finished the tournament as joint top scorer with seven goals, helping Egypt win its fourth title. The major improvement to the Egyptian system was their superb accuracy from set pieces throughout the tournament, a major pillar upon which the Egyptian success was built on. The dependency on the set pieces was a brand new tactic to Egyptian football, introduced by none other than the genius himself, El-Gohary.
His last stint with the national team was agonizingly painful after Egypt narrowly missed out on a place at the 2002 World Cup, after being drawn in a group with Cameroon, Morocco, and Algeria. One of the talking points of these qualifiers was picking Ahmed Hossam ‘Mido’ who was 17 years old then. Mido was an integral factor to every great performance the national side had then. Mido stated on his twitter account that he owes ever success he’s had to The General. Mido also said that his huge love for El-Gohary was for his support to his players 24/7, and that he never blamed his players in public following any defeat, he’d only blame himself.
A man with his huge experience wasn’t ready to retire yet. He took charge of the Jordanian national team. The General had an instant impact with them, guiding the Jordanian team to their first ever AFC Asian Cup appearance, which they managed to reach a history making quarterfinals in 2004.
He returned to Egypt for a brief spell as the Egyptian FA technical director but resigned in 2009 due to disagreements with the board of directors. El-Gohary accused them of trying to destroy his projects of developing Egyptian football once again.
The tactical genius was forced out of his country because he felt unwanted and unappreciated. He spent his final three years as an advisor for the Jordanian FA.
Egyptian, African, and Arabic football has truly lost an irreplaceable legend. To the man who brought professionalism, dedication, and hard work into one system for the prosperity of his teams, the man who was never afraid of taking risks, standing by his players and fighting for his beloved country, to the man whom every successful Egyptian footballer nowadays owes him for carrying Egypt seldom to the highest level, to The General, The Tactical Genius, The Courageous Man, The Legend, To Mahmoud El-Gohary. May your gracious soul rest in peace.