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The Egyptian Premier League’s “Ghost Teams”
KingFut’s Omar Youssef takes a look at the Egyptian Premier League’s “ghost teams,” how they continue to hold the league back, and how they must change if the league is to grow.
While some may see the Egyptian Premier League as the home of nice football games, Al Ahly, the African champions, and Zamalek, many see it as a reflection of Egyptian football’s problems. Take the issue of fan support. If you want to support a regional EPL team, with an active regional fanbase, you’ve got a choice between Al Masry, Ismaily, Ghazl El-Mahalla, Ittihad or Smouha, and if you want to support a trophy-chasing team, then you have a choice between Zamalek and Al Ahly. Naturally, since the EPL is an 18-team league, one must wonder: What happened to the 11 other teams?
The answer to this question is that the rest of the league’s teams are simply company or institution-owned teams. Teams like ENPPI, Petrojet, El Dakhleya, Haras El Hedood and a whole lot of other teams have no fan base and represent nothing but companies or institutions like the army or the police. Of course the next question is: Why? The answer: Nobody knows.
Now that we have identified the problem, let’s look at the issues said problem brings along. The first problem is instinctual: Since these teams have no fans to play for, there is a serious lack of commitment and dedication among their players. While the players may work hard to impress their coaches and the team’s staff, in order to secure playing time and make the starting lineup, most of the players on these teams are there with the hope of an eventual transfer to a team with a real fan base like Al Ahly or Zamalek, or because, as average players, they don’t really have much choice. Sometimes, players on these teams transfer in to finish up their careers at home and make some retirement money. None of the players on these teams grew up telling their friends and family that they’ve always dreamed of one day playing for Haras El-Hodood or Petrojet. Without a fan base, like it or not, the concept of a football team is dead and the players have little to nothing to play for.
We’ve seen teams like ENPPI and Petrojet go far in competitions like the Egyptian Cup, but again there is no fire to drive these players when they play against big teams with plenty of fan support. While the team might be a good one, what are the players playing for other than the chance to shine on an individual level or to make the coach happy? Those two reasons by themselves are useless if not combined with the will to make your team’s fans happy and the feeling of actually having the support of your fans, hearing the roars and the chants in the stands and being proud to wear the jersey and team crest, no matter how small the club.
You can compare this situation to a student who works hard for good grades, but is told at the end of the semester that no matter how good his grades are, he will not graduate and will not receive a diploma. For the student, the process of studying and working hard, like for the player who plays with no real fans, is at best incomplete, and at worst, almost meaningless.
The second problem is closely related to the first one. Until you have some fans, the money, the infrastructure and the youth system you have developed are not going to progress enough to make you become anything more than a good team that is going to constantly finish in the middle of the table, and maybe, from time to time, win a cup when Al Ahly and Zamalek are in bad shape.
How does the Egyptian league benefit from this situation? The CAF Champions League representative will remain Al Ahly and Zamalek. If Al Ahly and Zamalek are having a poor season, which is the case this year, the league loses all hope of winning the Champions League or Confederations Cup.
Why not change the team’s names to the areas they play in and actually get a fan base? Continue to get good results and actually obtain some sponsorship deals, develop the image of these clubs to make it more fans friendly and eventually sell the kits, play at home with fans cheering, travel with a set of fans to cheer you, and actually bring meaning to the team’s wins as well as their losses.
Having an 18-team league with actual affiliations to the local area they play in is not just a plus for the fans that will have more choices of teams to cheer for and will be able to actually associate themselves with local clubs, it’s also 18 different sets of fans that will buy tickets, buy kits, and attract sponsors for the league. This in turn encourages television networks to pay more for TV rights. To put it simply, for the league, the clubs and the fans, it’s a win-win-win.
We need the Egyptian Football Association to wake up and guide this league towards improvement instead of the stalling we are witnessing. Teams like ENPPI and Arab Contractors have in their own ways contributed to making Egyptian football better, but the EFA needs to step in and do the job that only a football association can do. ENPPI, Petrojet or any other club in the league will not take charge of such a situation and fix it. It’s the EFA’s job to do so.