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Egypt – It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn
It’s been rough lately. Egypt, the most decorated African team in the history of football, had been going through a downward spiral. A spiral which saw the only country to win three consecutive African Cup of Nations miss out on the 2010 World Cup, as well as two consecutive AFCON’s. A spiral which spelled the end of an era for one of the greatest footballing nations Africa has ever seen. A spiral which plunged Egypt down to it’s lowest ever FIFA world ranking. A spiral which tore through the hearts of every single Egyptian fan in the world, providing nothing but disappointment. But, and there always is a but, not for long. The Pharaohs, under the guidance of former US manager Bob Bradley, are still beating, slowly and surely reviving the failing heart that was was nested in the core of Egypt’s footballing hope for the present and future.
Firstly, the league has been a catalyst in the revival of structure within the Egyptian game . It has provided us with exciting new prospects, prospects which have not only just set the continent alight, but also have the potential to set the world alight. It is common knowledge that Egypt as a footballing nation have never really been able to steadily export quality players to the other leagues of the world. It’s not due to a lack of quality, the quality has always been there, rather the mentality of the players exported out combined with the factor of clubs being very unwilling to let their players who do possess the right atittude go.
But the past couple of years have been different. Mohamed Salah, Mohamed El-Nenny are two examples of these players. Two undoubtedly talented players, who would most likely never have left had the league not been stopped. This wouldn’t have been of their accord thought, but the fact that Arab Contractors were hard done by for money due to the stoppage of the league left them no choice. And what a choice it has been. From playing at a mid to low-end Egyptian League team to lighting up the Europa League against the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea for Swiss giants FC Basel, it is nothing but good news for Egypt as a footballing community. Combine this with other players such as Ahmed Elmohamady, Gedo and Ahmed Fathi, who have just helped Hull City to the Premier League, and Ahmed Hegazy of Fiorentina, the once short produce line of the Egyptian system is now overflowing with an abundance of talent. This isn’t taking into consideration that players such as Salah Gomaa and Ahmed Refaat, who both were key figures in the AFCON U20 triumph are now on trial at major clubs in Europe, with Gomaaa trialling for Dortmund after excelling in his trial for Anderlecht, whilst Refaat is now on trial at Sevilla, as well as the fact that there is the potential to have a lot more of our youngsters snapped up if good performances occur at the U20 World Cup this summer in Turkey. The future looks bright.
With so much political and social turmoil occurring within Egypt over the past few years and still occurring today, it is a wonder that Egypt is still competing at all. The Egyptian League has been under a constant shadow of doubt since the beginning of the protests which have plagued Egypt so very often lately. The Port Said riots magnified the issue ten fold. Due to a lack of security, the league was stopped indefinitely. With the league being stopped for so long, it’s a testament to the willpower of every Egyptian player, especially those involved in the riots who fill crucial positions within the national team, to see them out there playing again. And although the play has mostly been happening behind closed doors, the standards are still there. Zamalek in red hot form at the moment, breaking domestic records along the way whilst the threats of Al-Ahly, however depleted they may be, and Ismaily are still there.
The standards are rising, things are looking up from the league perspective, an imperative factor in the success of any national team. Teams who usually don’t succeed within the league are now capable of producing fine young talents. This is good in more ways than one. It allows buyers from other leagues to keep a closer eye on the Egyptian market, with the fact that the quality is quite steadily increasing. It not only helps clubs, with income being generated from the sale of players which can be used to further develop their squads and increase competitiveness, but also the national team set up as a whole. It also allows players who do not move overseas a way to grow, because at the end of the day, a whole national team usually isn’t picked from players based outside of the country.
These factors are not only lifting the confidence of the players, but also those of the fans. From a fanatic point of view, I can’t lie. The demise of Egyptian football over the past few years has left me heartbroken. The failure to reach the World Cup back in 2010 hurt me a lot, and results since then have not been up to standard. Failure to reach two consecutive AFCONs after winning the previous three in a row has also hurt, but if there’s one thing that can be learnt from other examples around the world, it’s that things are always darkest before the dawn. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United, all these teams and many more have gone through harsh times, but they’ve always held strong and come out on top. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. And the light of Egyptian football looks brighter than it’s been for a long time.