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Abdulrahman Magdy Interview – The struggle of sending Pharaohs abroad
Over the past couple of years, more and more Egyptian footballers have been popping up in Portugal’s Primeira Liga. For a country that doesn’t necessarily boast scores of players plying their craft at European clubs, 12 Egyptians in Portugal’s top-flight can hardly go unnoticed.
You see young defender Rami Rabia at Sporting Lisbon, midfielders Saleh Gomaa and Aly Ghazal at CD Nacional, striker Marwan Mohsen at Gil Vicente and many more who have come and gone over the last two seasons.
With all these Pharaohs flocking to Portugal, you would assume there is a lot of money involved and that the agent handling those transfer deals must be thriving.
When thinking of the words ‘Portugal’ and ‘football agent’, Jorge Mendes – along with millions of Euros – quickly comes to mind. The Portuguese super-agent, who represents Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho, is predictably the first result on Google when you search for those terms.
But in that very same league where Mendes has collected millions to build a career, Egyptians as well as their representatives are making peanuts in comparison.
Abdulrahman Magdy is an agent who has been involved in numerous transfers that sent players from Egypt to Portugal, including Gomaa’s loan deal from ENPPI to Nacional (who paid ENPPI a mere $100,000) and Shikabala’s deadline day signing with Sporting.
Magdy, who used to be the press officer for the Egyptian national team during the Bob Bradley-era and also hosted several football shows on TV, explains how most of the players who move from the Egyptian Premier League to Portugal actually make less money than they were making back home.
Still, that hasn’t stopped them from going abroad – a decision that is a glaring distinction from that made by players in other Arab countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia or Iraq, who prefer to stay at home, making large sums in lesser leagues, compared to Europe.
For an Egyptian to move to Portugal, he would often leave behind his superstar status, sacrifice a significant amount of his salary and choose to be away from his family and friends.
According to Magdy, one player is making EGP400,000 a year in Portugal, but would be making six times that figure should he play in Egypt.
“It’s still not easy to convince Egyptian players to go to Europe and accept a lower salary,” Magdy told Sport360°.
“Despite all the turmoil and political problems in Egypt, there is still money in football. There are players in Egypt who make EGP 5 million a year, that’s equivalent to €50,000 a week. In the entire Portuguese league, there’s only like two clubs who can afford to offer that salary.
“For GCC nationals, in my opinion, none of them will play abroad. Iraqis as well. I’ve been with the Iraq national team and their Olympic team in the past few weeks and they have talent. No player in the league in Iraq, who plays for the national team, makes less than $150,000 a year. So where can I tell a player like that to go?
“If he goes to Europe he’ll make way less. The only way for a player like that to go to Europe is for him to have a true ambition to play at a big club like Manchester United. Or a dream of playing in Serie A.
“He needs to have a specific goal and believe that he needs to start somewhere. But if he’s a player who is calculating how much he’ll be making, then there’s no way. They think ‘I’m at home in Iraq and living amongst my family and friends, why would I go abroad?’
“Saleh Gomaa is an example of an ambitious player. He had a big contract in Egypt. In his first year with Nacional, he was making less. Then in the second year, his salary matched what he was making in Egypt, he didn’t make more.
“But when he asks himself ‘why would I leave my country and live abroad?’ he thinks, ‘I want to make something of myself, I want to play for a big European club and I have endless ambition’. That’s the only answer that works.”
— Just Football (@JustFootball) March 17, 2015
The football mentality in the UAE, according to Magdy, is not based on that kind of ambition. He says: “In the UAE, I once had a bizarre case.
“A goalkeeper’s contract had ended. Someone called me, asking me to send him to Portugal for six months. It would be a free transfer and he doesn’t care how much he’ll be making and, six months later, a UAE club will buy him from that Portuguese club.
“I was like ‘what’s the point?’ He told me that would be the first UAE keeper to play professional football in Europe. So look at the mentality. It’s so tough to find someone who has the talent and also has the right mentality. To forgo all the money he’s making in a place like the UAE is difficult.”
Mohamed Ibrahim almost confirmed at Marítimo. It means that 10 Egyptians will play in Portugal this season. 5th in the nationalities count!
— Alexandre Queirós (@alexqueiros) August 17, 2014
The reason Portuguese clubs have been more welcoming to Egyptian players than other European leagues is there is no quota for the number of foreign players a club can sign, unlike Serie A, where clubs can only sign one non-EU player a year, which makes Ahmed Hegazy’s move to Fiorentina in 2012 all the more remarkable.
Magdy states that the first transfer from Egypt to Europe typically involves a low figure. But it is the second move within Europe that would bring in lots of money.
“I’d say it’s very rare to find a club that is ready to pay a decent sum for a player from the Middle East in general,” says Magdy.
“The level of football is obviously much lower than Europe, the success of the player is not guaranteed at all… many reasons. The mentality is always questionable. The big clubs would only start paying good money for an Egyptian after the player has proven himself in Europe.
“There are exceptions of course like Mohamed Salah who went from Arab Contractors to Basel for €1.5m after he excelled in the FIFA U-20 World Cup and the London Olympics. Ahmed Hegazy also went to Fiorentina from Ismaily for €1.5m but he also had done really well for Egypt. Those two were rare cases.”
Magdy believes Salah has managed to change the reputation and perception of Egyptian footballers in Europe. The prolific winger, currently at Fiorentina on loan from Chelsea, has been a terrific example of a hard-working player from Egypt and has seven goals and two assists for La Viola in 12 appearances.
“Clubs are still wary, of course. They have some specific questions before signing an Egyptian. I get asked sometimes ‘where is this player from in Egypt?’. Nacional told me they don’t want anyone from Cairo, ‘we prefer someone hungry for football and not someone who was a superstar back in Egypt and someone who feels he’s making a sacrifice by coming to Portugal’.
— KingFut.com (@King_Fut) March 28, 2015
“But I believe that the block towards Egyptians has vanished. Even Sporting, who had a terrible experience with Shikabala, they’re still scouting Egyptians.”
One of the challenges Magdy is facing is how agents are perceived in Egypt.
“The reputation of the job itself, being an agent, is terrible. So it’s tough to gain someone’s trust. There are probably a handful of agents in Egypt – and I’d like to consider myself one of them – who don’t fall under the category of the greedy, cut-throat, exploitative agents,” he adds.
“Commission for the agent is 10 per cent of the player’s contract value. There are agents who make more but those are not respectable people. They exploit the ignorance or need of a player and sometimes, in cases with African players, can take up to 50 per cent.”
Reem Abulleil is an Egyptian reporter and sub-editor for UAE sports daily, Sport360, and holds a Masters Degree in Sports Journalism. She has also contributed to Eurosport, BBC World Service, The Guardian, Dubai TV and radio among other media outlets.
This article was first published on Sport360°; published on King Fut with their permission.