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Ramadan Tales S2EP04 – The unfortunate career of wonderkid Mohamed El Yamani
For a fact, the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship in Argentina remains Egypt’s biggest (and only) achievement on the global stage, the year where an Egyptian side – blessed with some of the country’s then-brightest talents – defied all odds to finish third. In hindsight, maybe members of that 2001 side never reached the career heights of their 2003 successors; however, the ‘star of the show’ back in 2001 had the potential to reach heights unknown to Egyptian football back then, and may well be unknown until this very day. That star was Mohamed El Yamani, the boy who was on the verge of joining one of Europe’s top clubs, following a fantastic U20 World Cup in 2001.
Buenos Aires, June 20 2001. Ignominy. Defeat. One point. Minus six goal difference. Things weren’t going well for Egypt; after all, Shawky Gharib’s men had just endured a 7-1 defeat at the hands of hosts Argentina in only their second group game. Of course, a defeat against the Argentines was expected, but the seven goals that rattled both nets at the José Amalfitani Stadium were too much for any team to handle. However, the Pharaohs – led by wonderkid El Yamani, bounced back. The young striker scored four goals in 2001, including winning strikes against the USA in the Round of 16, the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, and against Paraguay in the third-place play-off. Such outstanding performances caught the eye of many European scouts and managers, who were very extremely impressed with the 19-year-old’s style of play.
El Yamani started his career at El Qanah, before moving to Ismaily to play for the youth team at the Yellow Dragons; however, El Yamani was inherently different to most Egyptian football talents, he knew he wanted to make a name for himself abroad, which prompted his move to Belgian Standard Liege at a ripe 17 years of age in 1998.
And then? Well, the Egyptian showcased his quality, and soon enough he became one of the first team’s more important strikers. His intent was clear, El Yamani wanted to become a legend, he was special, and he knew that.
Back to 2001. After an outstanding Youth World Cup, El Yamani was nominated for the CAF Youth Player of the Year, and – naturally – he was eyed by many European giants, namely Juventus. It seemed imminent that Standard Liege were going to let go of the Egyptian, especially following the considerable bid from l Bianconeri; not only that, but there were reports that Bayern were eyeing El Yamani. However, sometimes you fall before you fly; just one week following his World Cup heroics, El Yamani got into a car accident that almost destroyed his career. On his way to the airport, El Yamani lost control of the car, with one tyre bursting in the process. The incident took its toll so bad that El Yamani suffered from broken bones, fractures and a brain hemorrhage which contributed to a slight loss of memory.
Links with Juventus were well and over by the time El Yamani recovered four months later – featuring in a few games with Standard Liege, before being sent on a short loan to KV Mechelen in order to rediscover his pre-injury form. The Egyptian showed his quality at Mechelen, despite the team’s bad performances, thus returning to Standard.
After a superb pre season with the Reds, El Yamani came back stronger and impressed in many games during the season. Afterwards, the club offered to renew his contract, doubling his salary – however, the Egyptian refused the terms in the contract. Negotiations had reached a dead end. It was at that point that El Yamani decided to return to Egypt.
It was El Yamani’s spell in Egypt which arguably ignited his downfall. Upon returning in 2004, he signed for giants Zamalek – who were going through one of the toughest periods in the clubs history. In spite of that, El Yamani did not feature in any game. A bleak six months ignited a move to Ismaily, where he started to play with the first team, but along with it, many disagreements came about, which meant that he was on the move once more to play for Ittihad of Alexandria in at the start of 06/07.
Upon joining Ittihad, El Yamani finally managed to find a place where he could play without facing any problems. Spanning three seasons there, the ex-wonderkid’s time in Alexandria was impressive under both coaches Slobodan Pavokovic and Talaat Yousef.
However, his time came to an end with Seed El Balad when Taha Basry took over to replace Talaat Youssef at the end of 08/09, in which the former informed him that he wasn’t in his plans. As a result, El Yamani was released by the club, before moving to second divison outfit El Shams, where he spent one season, before deciding to try his luck in Europe once more.
El Yamani’s second term in Europe was not as successful as it was before. Looking for clubs in Hungary, Slovakia and Finland, El Yamani ended up signing for the Finnish club, Kuopion Palloseura. However, it was only a matter of time until he decided to leave to his final destination: Maltese club Floriana FC, where he helped the club qualify to the 2012/13 UEFA Europa League by winning the domestic cup for the first time in 17 years, before retiring in 2013, aged 31.
The struggle was immense. El Yamani went from being one of the most sought after talents in Africa, to a striker playing in a struggling Ittihad; by the time he retired in 2013, the 2001 Youth World Championship was a distant memory. The fall of El Yamani is akin to a modern day tragedy, a player who promised so much, but gave so little due to a major accident. An accident which instigated the downfall of arguably Egypt’s brightest talent circa 2001.
At the end of this tale, we leave you with a selection of El Yamani’s goals, just to re-live what the current Wadi Degla youth coach was capable of.