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Ramadan Tales S2EP06 – Looking back at the career of Abdel-Sattar Sabry
The sixth episode of this season’s Ramadan Tales is all about Egyptian legend Abdel-Sattar Sabry, one of the few Pharaohs to have impressed both domestically and internationally.
It was clear to Egyptian fans from the very first glance that Sabry’s talent was exceptional; his thrilling performances at the 1995 All-Africa Games games in Zimbabwe only fueled that notion. What makes Sabry so special isn’t only his talent, but the fact that Sabry never played for either of Egypt’s top three clubs (Al Ahly, Zamalek and Ismaily); the attacking midfielder is one of the few players who managed to move abroad as a young player, sealing a move to Austrian club FC Tirol Innsbruck, where he began his European journey.
Sabry started his youth career at Arab Contractors, receiving his first call-up up for the senior side in 1994 where he helped his team win the 1994/1995 Egypt Cup by beating Ghazl El-Mahalla 2-0 in the final. That win qualified the Mountain Wolves to the CAF Cup Winners’ Cup where the Egyptian side managed to win the tournament for the first time since 1983.
Sabry’s part with Contractors was tremendous – in the African Super Cup the Yellow and Blacks put on a very strong performance against Zamalek – who had won the African Champions League – even though Sabry’s side lost on penalties but their performance was extraordinary.
Simply put, Arab Contractors were arguably one of the best teams in Egypt back then. No team could easily stop them, not even Egypt’s greatest football duo Al Ahly and Zamalek. In fact, the attacking midfielder took part in his side’s historical 2-0 win against Al Ahly and 3-0 win against Zamalek during his time in Egypt.
Sabry’s fantastic form landed him a move to Europe in 1997 through Austrian side FC Tirol Innsbruck where he disappointed, scoring only two goals in 28 appearances in two seasons. This was no bad move for the Pharaoh as Greek side PAOK went for him in the summer of 1999. Sabry didn’t stay for long in Greece, after scoring 4 goals in 11 matches with the Thessaloniki outfit before catching the eye of Jupp Heynckes at Portuguese side Benfica, whom he joined in January of 2000.
Sabry had impressed in the beginning of his Benfica spell under Heynckes, but things quickly went downhill when a certain Jose Mourinho took charge. The Egyptian was defiant to the ‘Special One’ – and Mourinho didn’t like him very much either.
“It’s not easy for a manager to like a player who has an absurd amount of offside calls against him during matches, that doesn’t know when the ball is in opposition possession,” Mourinho said in a press conference during the 2000/01 season.
“That doesn’t know how to occupy his space on the field. That during away games when opponents show their teeth he runs away scared.
“That when at half time when I’m more aggressive he runs to the director, complaining that I am too aggressive and that he is afraid of me. It’s not easy, in fact, for a manager to like a player like this one.”
In spite of all that, Sabry’s overall numbers for Benfica were decent, playing in 37 matches and scoring 8 goals. In fact, one of Sabry’s most important goals in his career, if not the most important, was his last minute free-kick against capital rivals Sporting Lisbon which postponed the opponent’s league win.
Unfortunately Sabry suffered from an injury at the end of the season, and had already fallen out with Mourinho, which resulted in his move from Benfica to Maritimo in 2002, where he also spent one season making 15 appearances and scoring a lone goal.
His downfall didn’t end there, though as he then moved to Estrela Amadro where he scored two goals in 21 matches. Esterla were relegated that season and Sabry’s European journey ended as he moved back to Egypt after joining ENPPI in 2004.
The end of the road
Sabry started to regain his form bit by bit and successfully managed to do so, after only one season with the Petroleum club he was wanted by Al Ahly. Another unfortunate incident in the player’s career occurred as his move to Al Ahly fell through due to military enrollment issues which resulted in his move to military side Tala’a El-Gaish. Sabry sent five years with El-Gaish before hanging his boots in 2010.
On the international side, Sabry amassed 70 caps in six years with the national team, scoring 11 goals in the process. He played a huge role in Egypt’s gold medal in the 1995 All African games in Zimbabwe after defeating the hosting nation 3-2 in the final. He also played with the national team in the 1995 African Cup of Nations which wasn’t of great success to the Pharaohs as they were eliminated from the quarter final by Cameroon after losing 3-1.
Sabry featured alongside prominent players like Hazem Imam, Hossam Hassan and Ahmed Hassan in the 1998 African Cup of Nations in Burkina Faso where we were victorious after defeating South Africa 2-0 in the final goals courtesy of Ahmed Hassan and Tarek Mostafa.
Here is Sabry’s free kick goal against Sporting: