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Ramadan Tales S02EP03 – The story of Ahmed Hassan
Egyptians have been trying their luck in Europe for decades now. From Hany Ramzy and Hossam Hassan in the 90’s to Mido, Amr Zaki and Mohamed Zidan in the 2000’s, many a Pharaoh has tried the physically and mentally draining trip into the virtually unknown for an Egyptian footballer. Some succeeded, with Mido, Zaki and Zidan all raising eyebrows during their early ventures into the European game. Some are still succeeding, notably Mohamed Salah, Mohamed El Neny and Ahmed Hassan ‘Koka’. But one name which many fail to mention is that of Ahmed Hassan, the former Besiktas and Anderlecht star.
When Hassan’s career began in the mid 90’s, no one would have predicted that the midfielder would go on to become one of Egypt’s greatest exports to the European game, both in terms of consistency as well as temperament, something which has hindered the European careers of many Pharaohs to date. The evergreen star started his career in 1995, plying his trade at lowly Aswan FC, before being spotted by the big boys in the Egyptian Premier League after scoring an impressive seven goals for his side in 15 first team appearances. Not too shabby for someone who originally started out as a right back/winger in the early years. Hassan also earned his first call up to the Egyptian National team setup whilst at Aswan, making his debut against Ghana in December 1995, still at the ripe old age of 20.
Following his impressive performances for Aswan, Egyptian powerhouse Ismaily came calling, with Hassan moving to the Dervishes. Still young and raw, Hassan managed 22 appearances for the Ismailia based side, notching six goals in the process. By then, Hassan was established both locally and internationally, and it was at the 1998 CAF African Cup of Nations where the world’s eyes were opened up to this gem of a talent. Held in Burkina Faso, Egypt were drawn in a tough group alongside Morocco, Zambia and Mozambique. The tournament’s best player was another Egyptian legend in Hossam Hassan, who hit a freakish seven goals in five games, including two braces and a hat trick, but Ahmed Hassan was ever-present in the side who made it, and ultimately won in the final. Industrious through the middle of the pitch and with a keen eye for goal, Ahmed Hassan announced himself on the grandest of stages, belting in a rocket of a shot from 30-35 yards out just four minutes into the final against South Africa to set Egypt on their way to a 2-0 win.
A move to Europe beckoned at this point, and Hassan made his way to Turkey, signing with Super Lig side Kocaelispor following the 1998 African Cup of Nations. The transition from Egyptian football to the European way of football can sometimes be an arduous one, and Hassan took his time in adapting to the different style of play abroad. At Kocaelispor, Hassan made a total of 49 appearances across all competitions between 1998 and 2000, scoring five goals, somewhat a slow start to his European adventure. Following his time at Kocaelispor, Hassan made moves to both Denizlispor and Genclerbirligi between 2000 and 2003. Hassan’s time at Genclerbirligi was particularly impressive. With a more centrally placed role in the heart of the midfield, Hassan scored an impressive 23 goals for his side in only 41 appearances, a goal nearly every other game whilst also twice making the final of the Turkish Cup. Hassan had cemented himself as one of the best midfielders playing in Turkey at the time, and it wasn’t long before Turkish giants Besiktas noticed, making their interest known to the Egyptian, who eventually sealed a free transfer to the Istanbul based side.
Hassan hit the ground running at Besiktas, scoring 13 goals in his maiden campaign with his new side, helping the Turkish giants on their way to the league title after suffering only one defeat throughout the 34 match season. Spanning three seasons in Istanbul, Hassan firmed as a fan favourite within the passionate support at Besiktas, making 79 appearances across all competitions, netting 30 times in the process. The cherry on top of the Besiktas part of Hassan’s career came in his final season, with his side winning the 2005/2006 Turkish Cup, their first piece of silverware since the league title in the Egyptians first season at the side. As all Egyptians know though, Ahmed Hassan was a talisman in the National Team setup. Evergreen throughout basically his entire Egypt career, Hassan again lit up Africa, and perked the ears of many potential European suitors during his time at the 2006 CAF African Cup of Nations, which was held on home soil. The Pharaoh hit four goals in Egypt’s domination of the AFCON and was also named the tournament’s best player. At this point, Besiktas were resigned to losing him.
Following many clubs pursuit of Hassan in the off season following the African Cup, Hassan made the move from Turkey, where he had played his trade for the past 8 years of his career, to Belgian champions Anderlecht, for a reported fee of four and a half million euros. Despite interest from the Premier League among others, the decision to move to Belgium was considered to be due to Anderlecht’s participation in the UEFA Champions League. As Hassan had done at Besiktas, he hit the ground running, becoming a crucial part of the Anderlecht side where again, like at Besiktas, Hassan managed to win the league title in his first season at his new club. Similarly, again as at Besiktas, Hassan firmed as a club fan favourite, with the Egyptian’s name being chanted around the stadium on many an occasion in the Belgian sides’ stadium. At this stage of his career, Hassan was known for his eye for goal and exquisite vision. Playing behind the strikers, the Egyptian not only scored some absolute belters for his side, but also set up a tonne of goals.
Following the 2008 CAF African Cup of Nations, where Hassan was again brilliant for Egypt, who had managed to win their second continental tournament on the trot, Hassan announced that at the end of the season he would be leaving Belgium to return back to Egypt. The move would signal the end of Hassan’s 10 year European adventure, much to the anguish of the Anderlecht fans, who still to this day speak of the Egyptian. It was to be a fruitful last few months in Europe for the Pharaoh, who secured the 2007.2008 Belgian Cup with his side, finishing his adventure on a high before securing a move back to the Egyptian Premier League with Al Ahly. All in all, Hassan scored a total of 20 goals across all competitions for his Belgian side, making a total of 56 appearances in a two year stint.
In his twilight years, Hassan showed that he still had it, both on a domestic and international level. The 2010 CAF African Cup of Nations was just one of the many instances where the Egyptian showed his class, helping the Pharaohs to win an unprecedented 3rd African Cup in a row whilst also taking out the honour of the tournament’s best player, just as he had done four years prior in 2006. As an Egyptian football fan, one particular moment from this tournament still gives me goosebumps to this day. With Egypt having been named as underdogs in the tournament, they were drawn against Cameroon in the quarter finals. The game was important not just for Egypt, but also for Hassan, who was named a starter, overtaking Hossam Hassan as Egypt’s most capped player, with 170 caps in the process. 25 minutes in, Cameroon won a corner, with the resulting in swinger into the box being headed in for an own goal by none other than, you guessed it, Ahmed Hassan. The lead only lasted 12 minutes though, with Hassan rolling back the years, cannoning a dipping, swerving 40 yard strike past Kameni into the bottom corner of the net. The celebration was almost as good as the goal, with the Pharaoh running the length of the pitch to the substitutes, grabbing a shirt with “170” printed on the back, and celebrating with such passion. Hassan then ‘scored’ again as the game went into extra time (even though the ball didn’t cross the line, but we’ll take it) to set Egypt on their way to the semis and ultimately the title.
Hassan also showed the he still had the goods domestically, scoring 22 goals for Al Ahly in 59 appearances before making THE move to cross town rivals Zamalek in 2011. He also managed a further nine goals in the white of Zamalek before hanging his playing boots up in 2013. Ahmed Hassan will always be regarded as one of the finest exports Egypt has ever managed to produced into Europe. Over 200 matches abroad the Egyptian averaged a goal nearly every second game, whilst also being the world record higher for the most caps for a National team side in between. Turkey was the stepping stone, but it was in Belgium where Hassan was so revered that the fans still speak of him today. The former midfielder still has close ties with Anderlecht, notably recently acting as an advisor to them during their pursuit of Al Ahly’s Mahmoud Hassan ‘Trezeguet’. On the odd occasion that Hassan does go back for an impromptu visit to Anderlecht, the fans still chant his name in the terraces, the lasting effect of a legacy in Europe which many Egyptian players, both current and former dream of. Ahmed Hassan is and will always be a true legend of Egyptian football.