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INTERVIEW: Introducing Sunderland’s young Pharaoh, Jassem Sukar
Jassem Sukar is an 18-year-old central defender who plays for Sunderland’s U-21 side. Born in Hartlepool to an Egyptian father and English mother, Jas is one of the few Pharaohs currently playing in England; going from Middlesborough’s academy to Marton FC – a junior team who’ve produced the likes of Stewart Downing, Jonathan Woodgate and former Black Cats captain Lee Cattermole – to making his debut for Sunderland’s U-21s, aged just 17.
KingFut.com editor Marwan Ahmed caught up with the promising defender to discuss his youth career, club & international ambitions…
Tell us about yourself Jassem, when did you start playing football?
I really started when I was about 6 or 7, which was for a local team close to my house. I just started to make friends, and I realized I liked some of them. I obviously got influenced from my parents, uncles and family. The local team was called Saint Francis, it was just a non-professional league – just a Sunday league.
Were you born in the UK? Are both your parents Egyptian?
I was born in Hartlepool, my father is Egyptian and my mother is English.
Have you ever visited Egypt? If so, how often?
I try to go once a year obviously to see family, but I haven’t been able to go there in the past year or so. I try to go when I have time off in the summer for a week or two weeks.
At what age did you join Middlesbrough?
I was 8 when I joined. I went to development when I was 7 but you had to be 8 to join the academy, so as soon as I was 8 I went up to the academy. I left Middlesbrough when I was 11; stayed there for 3 years.
From Marton FC to Sunderland – A New Chapter
Tell us about your time at Marton FC…
It was really one of my best times in football because we were on trips to Spain and Barcelona to play other teams from around Europe, and it was quite successful where we were in a league which was like division one, not professional – still Sunday league. I was there [Marton] for 2 or 3 years, then I joined Sunderland at the age of 13. I went straight to Marton after leaving Middlesbrough, it was just something different. I wanted to start a new chapter and see what it could bring, and thankfully it brought Sunderland.
So it wasn’t long before you got signed up by Sunderland?
Just two years then, after my second year at Marton, I got a trial at Sunderland then I got signed within two weeks of the trial. I was 13 going on 14.
How did it feel to make your youth team debut with Sunderland?
It was when I was in my last year of school in year 11. I was 15-16. I was nervous because it was a step up from the U-16s to the U-18s; it was a lot more physical but it was a good experience, especially while I was younger.
You’re known as a versatile defender, what is your best/preferred position on the pitch?
Left centre-back. I could also fill in anywhere across the back four. I used to play left-back at Middlesbrough, but I got moved to central at Marton and this is where I feel I can influence the game the most.
Tell us about this recent season with the team, have you featured for the U-21s yet?
My recent season was quite frustrating because I was out injured for about 8 months. At the end of it was really good because I had a few games with the U-21s in the last months of the season. I had an operation in my left knee which I had done in August after pre-season and originally, I was told that it would be a three-month injury, but I got back and was out for another five months. It wasn’t a cruciate [injury]. They thought it was at first but thankfully it wasn’t. This year I featured two or three times. I played only five games for the U-18s, because of my injury, but thankfully I got the privilege to train and play with the U-21s. It was a big step up as from the U-16s to U-18s and U-18s to U-21s, as they’re a lot more physical and some have played for the reserves, so the game is quicker – more intense, but it’s good.
What would you say is your favorite moment with the club thus far?
I would say when we won the league two years ago; it was my first year on my scholarship. We beat Liverpool on the last day of the season. We had to win and we beat them two-nil.
Have you scored any goals for the club yet?
In pre-season this year I have scored 2 goals in 5 games, but last season I haven’t scored any.
What do you think of the job Gus Poyet has done with the Black Cats since arriving? Have you spoken with him yet?
He’s done really well lately. It was quite tough before he came in, he had quite a long way to go but the results at the end of the season against Chelsea, Manchester United and Man City – he’s done really well to get them from the squad he had to keep the team up. We’ve all met him walking around the academy but we don’t really see him much because the first team train at a different time and in different parts in the academy, but when he walks past us he says ‘hello’ etc.
Ahmed Elmohamady was a Sunderland player for a couple of years, did you ever get to meet him?
I’ve spoken with him once or twice in the corridors. I told him that my father was from Egypt so we talked and I asked him where he was from, and we just got on quite well. I really didn’t see much of him as the first team trained at different times, but when I did see him he always said ‘hello’.
What do you think of Elmo’s last two seasons with Hull City, with his success, how does it make you feel as an Egyptian?
It feels good because he’s a good player; one of the best right-backs. He’s quick and his crossing is really good, but it gives you hope to think you’ve got a chance because obviously he came from Egypt and he’s got the chance, but there were several players in the Premier League like Zaki, Mido, Ghaly was at Tottenham, and there’s also one player at Brighton [Adam El-Abd – now at Bristol City]. There’s a few that you don’t realize that they’ve done well when they came and took their chances.
Who have you been following from the Egyptian players in England?
Salah, since he came over it was a shock move; we didn’t realize but when he got his chance he took it well, he’s a really good player. He’s got quite a lot of competition at Chelsea because it’s a big team, but he does well when he gets his chance and he should be in the first team next year.
How does it feel to be one of the few players of Egyptian origin to be playing in England?
It’s good to be that, it’s different. It gives you a different background from everyone else and you stand out more.
Jassem Sukar – Egyptian Football & Career Aspirations
Do you watch Egyptian football? If so, who are your favorite Egyptian players?
It’s hard to get the coverage over here but sometimes I watch it with my father every now and again, but it’s hard to get the coverage. Elmohamady is one of the most developed as the standard of football is higher in England and he seems like a modern day defender with his pace and crossing ability, so I like to watch him because he’s different. I’ve seen bits [of Abou-Treika] in the African Cup of Nations and he was good but that’s only every few years so I don’t get to see him much, but I’ve seen him, he’s good.
Have you watched the Egyptian national team live at a stadium or any Egyptian players in England?
Because we get tickets from Sunderland to watch every game, I’ve seen – I think – Salah play in the second half of the season and Elmohamady, and they did really well.
Have you ever had contact with the Egypt FA over the possibility of representing the Pharaohs at youth level?
Not recently but a few years back me, my father, and I think my cousin met with captain Rabie Yassin [former Egypt U-20 coach]. It was 3 or 4 years ago and that was the last time really, but due to injury. I would like to think I have the chance of getting back.
Is there a chance that you could feature for England at youth level? Who would you choose if both options were available: Egypt or England?
I’d like to think there’s a chance, a year or two ago they [England] were watching me but then I got injured. Tough decision really, I’d like to say Egypt really for the roots of my father and family over there. It’s a completely different game to English football, the different players and different countries, you have a challenge.
What do you think are some of the aspects in your game that you need to improve on?
At the minute my weaker foot because I’m currently left-footed. I’m doing extra work with the coaches from Sunderland on my right foot and I feel that if I can get my right foot as my left I’ll be fine technically-wise because I’ve got the pace, versatility, the strength, the size. It’s just the technical work.
What’s your favorite club, and who’s your favorite player?
I support Arsenal since I was young. I would say Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid and also maybe David Luiz, who are just more modern day footballers who are a lot more technical and can do more things compared to the older day ones [defenders]. They don’t just kick it and head it. They’re good on the ball and affect the game well. They’re different, I don’t like to be the same as everyone else, I like to stand out and to me those defenders do. They’re world class.
What do you hope to achieve in the coming years knowing that you’re still of a young age? Do you think you’ll get the chance to feature for the first team any time soon?
When we go back in July, I feel if I train right and get myself right I could get my chance with the first team; but it’s all down to me. If I do get the chance I should be able to take it.
Anything else you’d like to say to your Egyptian fans?
Honestly just thank you for the support given and just keep supporting me really, the confidence will help me when I get older in my career.
KingFut.com would like to thank Jassem Sukar for his time and wishes him all the best in his future endeavors.