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In Defence of Hossam Ghaly and Abdallah El-Said
On July 8th 2014, Al Ahly hired Spanish manager Juan Carlos Garrido to take charge of the first team. He had previously worked with Villarreal, Club Brugge and Real Betis. In less than a year, he’s won two titles, and lost a third title on penalties. Al Ahly are currently sitting third in the league with over 50 points to play for.
Since his appointment it has been obvious that Garrido wants Al Ahly to play his brand of football, which is to dominate possession, move intelligently off the ball, and to attack at all times. There’s a bit of Barcelona 2008-12 about his style of play, which has never been seen in Egypt.
If you’re watching an Al Ahly club match at your local café anywhere across Egypt, one thing’s for sure: people will be cussing at Abdallah El-Said and Hossam Ghaly for 90 minutes. It doesn’t really matter if they’re playing well or not, people will just not get off their backs. Hossam Ashour is no stranger to this, but he’s moved away from this bracket this season under Garrido.
To play possession football it’s crucial to dominate the midfield. Garrido’s central midfield options are Hossam Ashour, Hossam Ghaly, Ahmed Khairy, Mohamed Rizk, Mahmoud Trezeguet, Sherif Abdel-Fadil and Sherif Hazem. Of that list there are only three players who naturally play in central midfield. Khairy was one of the league’s best central midfielder’s when he was at Ismaily but has found things difficult every since he moved to the capital’s giants. Thus, that cuts the list to two players: Ashour and Ghaly.
Most will agree that Ashour has developed rapidly under the Spaniard’s management. He’s making more passes forward, finding runs of Soliman, Trezeguet, Hussein El-Sayed and Bassem Ali to name a few, he’s also been taking more shots which is what he’s been previously criticized of not doing enough of. Ashour’s playing style has clearly become a lot more attack-oriented, without sacrificing his ball winning skills, which was the only aspect of his game praised by your average Egyptian fan.
Il Capitano, Hossam Ghaly, is the most experienced player at the club. He’s got a bad temper and he’s moody but he loves the club and loves to win. Hossam Ghaly had done his ACL back in 2012 and hasn’t reached the highest of his game before injury ever since, and being on the wrong side of 30 hasn’t helped either, but he’s slowly getting there under the Spanish manager.
Abdallah El-Said has been hot and cold since he moved to Al Ahly back in 2011. Back then, he couldn’t play in his favoured number 10 position – as it was occupied by club legend Mohamed Abou-Treika – he was usually pushed out on either flank. He played better on the left flank as it allowed him to cut inside on his favoured right foot to fire in at goal. He had been in top form since Abou-Treika had retired near the end of 2013. He played in his favored position and was Al Ahly’s top scorer in the league before he got injured, thus he missed the end of the 2013-2014 season and pre-season. He was only fit towards the end of 2014 when Garrido was already a good few months into his managerial career at Al Ahly. Since his return to the side he’s been playing centrally often due to injuries, but it seems that Garrido will keep playing him in that position despite the squad looking almost fully fit.
Garrido doesn’t seem to rate Karim Bambo very highly, or at least he doesn’t think he’s ready to become an integral part of the first team; as a result, Al Ahly have no out-and-out wingers that can provide width for the side. Thus, Garrido has played with two wing backs this season. They provide width to the side and bomb up and down the flanks for 90 minutes. This cannot be done without Hossam Ghaly or Abdallah El-Said.
Garrido deploys Hossam Ghaly and Abdallah El-Said, when he is playing centrally, in the half back role which essentially means that when the side is in possession they drop in between both centre-backs to help with the circulation of the ball and allows for the wing backs to bomb forward. They key attributes of a half back are passing, vision, anticipation, heading, tackling, composure and positioning. Ultimately, Hossam Ghaly is more familiar to such attributes as he can play as libero or centre-back, but Abdallah El-Said’s passing ability and positioning allows him to play the role well as well.
Ghaly had been playing this role for the side, but when he got injured Abdallah El-Said was assigned the role. He’s adapted fantastically well; he finds runs with his long range passes, dribbles less and keeps it simple. One of Abdallah’s best games as half-back this season came in the 1-0 loss to ENPPI, where Al Ahly dominated the game but could not finish off the many opportunities that they created.
He’s created a couples of chances through his long balls forward that were not converted. His vision had always been one of his key attributes but he’s showing that he can dictate from deep an still be able to find the runs of his fellow teammates.
Hossam Ghaly’s best performance this season came away from home in the CAF Super Cup against Entente Sportive de Sétif. It was another game in which Al Ahly dominated in terms of possession and chances created yet lost on penalties. However, the outcome of the game should not take away anything from Il Capitano’s performance. He last 60 minutes on the pitch before getting injured and being substituted. It was obvious that Al Ahly were not as comfortable in possession after he was substituted; no one was popping up to circulate possession.
Although Hossam Ghaly is talented going forward, his natural instincts is to defend. This is where he is better than Abdallah El-Said. When Al-Ahly don’t have possession, he presses, tackles, makes screens and forces opposition to make the wrong pass.
Ghaly also presses high up the field trying to win the ball as high up the field as possible, which can only be done if Hossam Ashour is covering the area behind him to ensure that if the ball is not won back, Al Ahly aren’t in danger of being counter attacked.
The work of Hossam Ghaly and Abdallah El-Said under Juan Carlos Garrido is extremely undervalued. They have been used a scapegoats all season when in reality they are creating the chances that others keep on missing. I have seen people calling for Hossam Ghaly to be downgraded to the bench and Mohamed Rizk started in his place. Unfortunately, Rizk is not a central midfielder naturally; he’s more of a number 10. Hossam Ghaly and Abdallah El-Said are tactically the two most important players in Garrido’s system. People need to set their agendas aside and enjoy what they do for the side.