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Why Have So Many Egyptians Failed in Europe?
Making his KingFut.com debut, Assem Heiba of BavarianTweets looks back at some of the many Egyptian players who’ve either failed to make an impact or fulfill their potential in European football.
Watching a proven domestic player impress in Europe is a very satisfying feeling for any football fan. Be it Amr Zaki setting the Premier League alight in 2008 or Mohamed Salah raising eyebrows in the Europa League in 2013, Egyptian football fans can’t help but feel proud when a home grown player shows his quality on a big stage. Similarly, it is almost equally disappointing when an Egyptian disappoints on a bigger stage, like Amr Zaki after those first few blossoming months at Wigan, Mido ever since his Tottenham exit or Mohamed Zidan since his serious ACL injury in 2010. When an Egyptian displays the form they’re capable of on a bigger stage, it’s magical; unfortunately, those moments are few and far between. While it may seem mind-boggling as to why this happens, taking a look at the European careers of a few Egyptian footballers might help crack this mystery.
Perhaps the most disappointing story of the past few years is that of Amr Zaki. Already an established player in Egypt, Zaki made a bigger name for himself after his appearance from the bench in the African Cup of Nation 2006 semi-final and subsequent goal that sent Egypt to the final, not least because of the now-infamous row between Mido and Hassan Shehata it caused. Following a victorious ACN, Amr Zaki moved to Russa’s Lokomotiv Moscow, making a grand total of zero appearances before joining Zamalek shortly after. His two seasons at Zamalek culminated in an Egyptian Cup triumph, which came shortly after a second successive ACN win with Egypt.
Following his exploits with Egypt and Zamalek, Amr Zaki was signed on loan by Steve Bruce’s Wigan in the buildup to the 2008-2009 season. From August until December of 2008, Zaki’s bagged ten goals, a very impressive feat considering Nicolas Anelka has won the EPL Golden Boot for his 19 goals in May of 2009. His goals and performances kept Wigan afloat and sparked widespread interest in him. While the alleged interest of Chelsea, Liverpool and Real Madrid may have been a little far fetched, it was recently revealed by Zaki that Aston Villa’s offer would have made him the most expensive Egyptian footballer of all time.
January 2009 marked the start of Amr Zaki’s decline, he scored no goals for Wigan, lost his place by the end of the season and damaged his reputation due to his tendency to return late from international duty. By the summer of 2009, a player who was leading the EPL scoring charts a few months prior had reluctantly returned to Zamalek to form an ill-fated partnership with the equally disappointing Mido. Amr Zaki’s career has been very unspectacular since; he suffered frequent injuries and poor form with Zamalek before moving to Hull City on loan and later Turkey’s Elazığspor, spending an unsuccessful half-season. Upon returning from Turkey, Zaki spent a week at former club ENPPI, before getting sacked for not showing up at a training camp. He is currently at Kuwait’s Al Salmiya and it remains to be seen if he can pick up what’s left of his once-promising career.
What Went Wrong?
The two things that Zaki lacked most during his turbulent recent career have been humility and professionalism. While he had the world at his feet during the first half of the 2008-2009 season at Wigan, he believed in his own hype and didn’t keep his head down. Such an attitude, displayed most during his late returns, failed to keep him at Wigan, let alone move him to a top European team. During his six-game spell at Hull City in 2010, he talked of moving back to Zamalek in the summer if he couldn’t find a “decent team” to join. Talking about joining other clubs while simultaneously putting down his own team signified how Zaki’s ego cost him a successful career.
An Ahly youth product, Emad Meteb began making a name for himself during Ahly’s successful 2004-2005 Egyptian Premier League and 2005 African Champions League campaigns after shining in the 2003 FIFA World Championships with Egypt’s U20 coached by Hassan Shehata. Not particularly fast, strong or tall, Meteb’s composure, positioning and excellent finishing made him a great goal scorer for club and country. Unfortunately, Meteb’s two European experiences were both bizarre failures.
After domestic triumph with Al-Ahly and continental domination with Egypt in 2008, Emad Meteb seemingly took the next step in his career by moving to Europe. Despite having agreed terms with Bristol City and Meteb was set to join the English team, he decided to play in an African Champions League derby against Zamalek the day before he was supposed to join Bristol City. Meteb’s actions led to a fall out with his agent, with Meteb claiming his agent misinformed him and his agent claiming that Meteb was greedy and looking for another club. Bristol City manager Gus Johnson didn’t take the news well on account that he had told Meteb and his agent that featuring against Zamalek would be a violation of City’s terms. After a few days of all-round chaos, the deal, which would have been the most expensive in Bristol City’s history at £1.5 million, collapsed. Meteb spent the 2008-2009 season on loan at Saudi Arabia’s Ittihad.
Two years later, Meteb got his second chance, had an even better opportunity to showcase himself on the European stage when he signed for Belgium’s Standard Liege. After a few days of training in Belgium, Meteb returned to Egypt to retrieve a few important documents and decided that he didn’t want to return to Belgium. Obviously, his fresh contract was torn up and Meteb returned to Ahly one of the most inexplicable moves in recent memory.
What Went Wrong?
Just as was the case with Amr Zaki, Meteb’s two shots at European football were wiped out due to his lack of professionalism. Costing oneself the chance to become a respected English club’s record signing due to a desire to play a match the day before joining them reeks of unprofessionalism. Furthermore, leaving, or rather escaping, a club less than a week after signing for them for no apparent reason reeks even more of unprofessionalism. Meteb is now thirty, out of the national team, suffering frequent injuries and in a league that has been cancelled twice and not showing any promise of coming back soon. Just another case of what might have been.
Another Ahly youth product, Ghaly’s European career cannot be deemed as a failure, but it was certainly cut short. He began with Feyenoord Rotterdam in 2003. He spend three seasons in the Netherlands before signing for Tottenham Hotspur in 2006. An initially promising career at White Hart Lane included scoring against Chelsea in the FA Cup, but the midfielder blew it all away when he decided to throw his Spurs jersey to the ground after being substituted in a game against Sheffield United near the end of the season. Besides destroying his reputation at Tottenham, Ghaly was on the verge of signing a £3 million, £30k/week contract with Birmingham City but deal has collapsed as he was dismissed from a training session by then-coach Steve Bruce as he complained more than once about the amount of running the team did in training, hardly suitable for someone who had already spent a year in England. After spending the first half at 2008 at Derby County, Ghaly returned to parent club Tottenham for six months before moving to Saudi Arabia in January 2009. A year and a half in Saudi Arabia and three years back at Ahly yielded some success for Ghaly, who is now taking another shot at success in Europe, albeit at Egyptian-owned Lierse in Belgium.
What Went Wrong?
Hossam Ghaly has always had a reputation for being a talented deep-lying midfielder with a bit of a short temper. He can quickly get riled up and make rash decisions, hence his frequent bookings, dismissals and suspensions. True to his reputation, Ghaly’s career in North London was cut short by an unneeded moment of rage. While coming on as a substitute and later being subbed off in the same game (a tactical decision after Spurs were down to 10-men), disrespecting the club by throwing its sacred shirt to the floor is inexcusable. Similarly, complaining about having to do too much running at the club giving you a chance to start over in England is also inexcusable. Unlike Zaki and Meteb, Ghaly’s career in Europe was mainly sabotaged by a needless rush of blood to the head. Also unlike Zaki and Meteb, Ghaly has a chance to start again in Europe with Lierse, already scoring on his debut.
The ultimate journeyman, CAF Most Promising Talent of the Year 2002, Mido played for some of the biggest teams in Europe next to some of the biggest players in Europe before announcing his retirement at the premature age of 30. While his European experience didn’t fail the way those of Meteb or Zaki did, but the full potential wasn’t fulfilled and it didn’t succeed the way his undoubted potential suggested it should. After spending a season at childhood team at Zamalek, Mido spent a season at Belgium’s Gent, a season-and-a-half at Ajax, half-a-season at Celta Vigo, a season at Marseille, half-a-season at Roma, two-and-a-half seasons at Tottenham, a season-and-a-half at Middlesbrough, half-a-season at Wigan, half-a-season at Zamalek, half-a-season at West Ham, half-a-season at Ajax, a season-and-a-half at Zamalek and half-a-season at Barnsley before announcing his retirement this year. It says a lot about Mido’s career that the last of the four club trophies he won was with Ajax in 2002, that he only scored 88 club goals since 1999, that he spent numerous half-seasons during his career and that he was kicked out of the team for the only trophy he won with Egypt.
What Went Wrong?
It would be easy to blame Mido’s unfulfilled career on lack of professionalism; it’s deeper than that. For most of his career, Mido featured with some of football’s big stars: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Didier Drogba, Francesco Totti, Vincenzo Montella, Dimitar Berbatov and Antonio Cassano, whose career eerily mirrors that of Mido. One possible explanation for Mido’s underwhelming scoring record and constant changing of clubs could be his ego and his refusal to be overshadowed. Mido and Ibrahimovic formed a promising partnership at Ajax, but things soured when the pair clashed in the dressing room and Mido threw a pair of scissors at the big Swede. Despite a season in Ligue 1 full of potential, Mido was dismayed that he was overshadowed by the exploits of Didier Drogba. After returning to Ajax in 2010, Mido decided to bail after mentor Martin Jol was sacked, despite the fact that he had already managed to score a few goals. Another explanation could be Mido’s frequent fitness issues.
Throughout his career, Mido was hounded by injuries that made it difficult for him to hold down a first team spot, which in turn led to his frequent transfers. Near the end of his career, Mido had several issues with his weight, making it nearly impossible for him to feature at all for the first team. The third explanation for Mido’s surprisingly barren and short career could be the fact that he carried the hopes of a nation for a long time up until the Egyptian national team’s success with Hassan Shehata. Mido was a frequent scorer for the national team at the turn of the century, and was seen as the bright future of Egypt at a time when most of his peers were playing for youth teams. It says a lot that Mido didn’t feature in Egypt’s bronze-winning youth campaign in Argentina in 2001, but rather featured for the senior team during the miserable 2002 and 2004 ACN campaigns. Perhaps, just like Germany’s Sebastian Deisler, the pressure and frequent injuries got to him and he couldn’t perform to the best of his abilities.
What can we tell?
While the four above players are definitely not the only Egyptians to play in Europe – they’re not even the only Egyptians to fail in Europe – their stories can give us a big hint as to why many Egyptian careers never materialize in the Old Continent. All four cases, specifically the first three, displayed unprofessionalism that simply didn’t cut it in Europe. Zaki, Ghaly and Mido also had big egos and short tempers during their European expeditions, be it wanting to join a “decent club”, throwing a shirt to the floor or throwing scissors at team-mates. It is no coincidence that all four players featured at either one of Egypt’s two powerhouses, which gives them an elevated status in Egyptian football. Perhaps the players were unable to cope with being just another player, rather than celebrities. Players like Ahmed Elmohamady, Mohamed El-Nenny and Mohamed Salah are all currently enjoying relative success in Europe with no issues over professionalism or ego, a large part of this is because they didn’t enjoy celebrity-like status at ENPPI (Elmohamady) or the Arab Contractors (Nenny and Salah).
This article didn’t take into account several other factors, such as language and climate. Most Egyptian footballers move to Europe with little to no knowledge of the language, which hinders their communication with the coach and team, which leads to less playing time, which leads to a quick desire to leave and return to more familiar surroundings. The climate in Europe is also a stumbling block to many Egyptian footballers, who are used to the warmer, drier climate in Egypt. In fact, both Amr Zaki and Ahmed Elmohamady, formerly at Sunderland and currently at Hull, complained of the cold English weather during their early days in the Premier League.
In conclusion, the unfortunate cases of Amr Zaki, Emad Meteb, Hossam Ghaly and Mido showed that lack of professionalism, inflated ego and perhaps a reluctance to adapt to a new language, climate or stature are the main reasons behind failed Egyptian footballers in Europe. It remains to be seen whether or not the “new generation” of players like Mohamed Salah, Mohamed El-Nenny, Ahmed Elmohamady and Ahmed Hassan “Koka” will be able to avoid these fatal factors and embark on successful careers on the biggest stages in the world.