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Al-Ahly Transfer Policy: Gedo & Ahmed Fathi Must Be Allowed To Go
So far, it’s been a good year for Egyptian footballers outside the domestic league. Egypt’s victory in the U-20 African Championship has reignited interest in Egyptians from abroad, probably more than a Africa Cup of Nations victory would have, since clubs almost invariably prefer to bring in young, talented players for cheap rather than experienced, developed players who they can’t mold too much and have to pay top dollar (or pound) for. As a result, already this calendar year, we’ve seen Saleh Gomaa go on trial with RSC Anderlecht & Borussia Dortmund, Ahmed Refaat go on trial with Sevilla, Amr El-Sulaya go on trial with Villarreal, and Mohamed Essam join Legia Warsaw on an extended three-week trial/loan.
In terms of actual transfers, Mohamed El-Nenny & Mohamed Salah have become the two most exciting prospects in Egyptian football since joining FC Basel and playing a major role in their run to the Europa League final. Salah was recently named as one of the Europa League’s top eight rising stars on top of being Africa’s Most Promising Talent, and he has been strongly linked with Tottenham in recent months.
More quietly in the Portuguese league, Ahmed Hassan has done terrifically well at Rio Ave, scoring eight goals in his last 12 games of the season to help Rio Ave finish comfortably in seventh and announce his arrival to the world. At this point, he is quite likely Egypt’s best hope at the forward spot for the next couple of years, and will get the chance to prove himself to at the national level when the travels with the Egyptian U-20 team to the U-20 World Cup in June.
But while it’s great to see so many Egyptians succeeding abroad, it is important to note that they could not have done it on their own. Every aforementioned player (with the exception of Ahmed Hassan) had to get permission from their Egyptian club to pursue a career abroad and develop into a better player for their own good and the good of Egyptian football.
Seems like a no-brainer, that Egyptian clubs would let their top youth talents go if they truly possessed the talent to cut it in Europe, provided they would be fairly compensated, right? Not quite. While ENPPI & Arab Contractors, and most of the Egyptian Premier League’s smaller clubs, have got it down, Al-Ahly remain stubborn as ever. And in doing so, they are standing in the way of further progress for Egyptian football.
Take Gedo & Ahmed Fathi’s recent move to Hull. Although both experienced some struggles during their loan spell, Gedo in the form of injury & Fathi in the form of limited playing time, both played significant roles in securing promotion to the English Premier League for Hull City. As such, both expressed the desire to remain with Hull next season, when interviewed recently by Sky Sports.
But while Al-Ahly, via Hossam El-Badri, their former head coach, initially seemed in support of the idea of letting Gedo and Fathi go, they’ve since u-turned on this decision and made clear their desire not to allow either of them, or Mohamed Abou-Treika, currently on loan at Bani Yas, to leave.
It should also be noted until very recently, Al-Ahly were opposed to letting Mahmoud Hassan “Trezeguet” go on loan to French club Nice either, even though he’s started one game all season long and Al-Ahly has a player, Ahmed Shokry, who can play the same positions, is competent & capable, but has been kept on the bench for most of the season.
Obviously, it does not make sense for Al-Ahly to let go of every single player who wants a transfer out of the club; after all, Al-Ahly is a club with a proud history and they want to make sure they can continue to challenge for the domestic league & CAF Champions League.
But in the same vein, it is not easy to make it in Europe, or even get the opportunity to show off your talents. Just ask Al-Ahly striker Emad Meteb, who has thrown away chance after chance, first with Bristol City then with Standard Liège.
If you’re not a youth player in Egypt, you have to be among the very best in the domestic league AND prove yourself in international football to gain consideration from European clubs. Ahmed Fathi & Gedo are part of a select few who’ve done this. In any other African or Asian country, they’d have been allowed to go with ease. Heck, even if Fathi and Gedo were Brazilian or American, they’d probably have agreed a deal by now; even though Brasileirão clubs and the MLS tend to be a bit more stubborn, they still understand that in modern football, the wisest move is to let those players targeted by top clubs leave for the betterment of their careers and domestic football.
Zamalek, for the record, are not immune to this; they themselves have frustrated attempts by Anderlecht to sign Shikabala and Wigan to sign Amr Zaki in the past. Recently, they’ve not been tested by transfer bids for their players, though that has to do more with Zamalek’s more youth-oriented approach and new look this season than anything else.
Zamalek & Al-Ahly, admittedly, are not like the other clubs of the Egyptian Premier League. They have to deal with more fixtures in the form of the CAF Champions League—though you could argue that the CAF Confederations Cup is equally burdensome on the league’s mid-table clubs of Ismaily, ENPPI, Harras El Hodoud, etc—and most significantly, their ultras are probably the most demanding, rowdy group of ultras in Africa.
That being said, it is possible to achieve a balance between keeping a strong, unified squad capable of winning trophies and letting truly talented players pursue careers in Europe. The latter does not have to preclude the former, if done right. In the case of Ahmed Fathi & Gedo, it only makes sense that after the years of service they’ve put in for Al-Ahly, that they be given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As we’ve seen with Meteb, Zaki, Ghaly and to various extents with other Egyptian stars, the chance to truly make it in Europe rarely comes twice.