Egyptian national team: Searching for the next great striker
There was a time, around the midpoint of the 2008-09 football season, when Egypt’s national team had an abundance of good strikers, and ex-national team coach Hassan Shehata had nothing but quality options to pick from when choosing the player to lead the line for his team.
Outside of the Ivory Coast, there was hardly a national team in Africa that could boast striking options as good as Egypt’s, striking options which included an in-form Amr Zaki, bending the Premier League to his will with Wigan, and Emad Meteb, who was also at the peak of his powers, taking the Saudi Professional League by storm and helping Al-Ittihad win the title over wealthier Al-Hilal by five points.
Mohamed Zidan, too, was in his first season with Borussia Dortmund, and giving a fine demonstration of his capabilities, even if he was largely limited to the role of a super-sub. He exuded quality, and even when he wasn’t playing regularly for Dortmund, his performances for Egypt were top-notch.
Even Mido, the butt of so many jokes about wasted potential and talent gone wrong, wasn’t half-bad at this point in his career either. He scored six goals in the EPL in 2008-09, and his good performances for Middlesbrough prompted Wigan to take him on loan for the second half of the season.
But unfortunately for Bob Bradley, those days are far, far gone.
Each of the aforementioned strikers has declined significantly, to the point where none of them are worthy of making the Egypt national team squad any longer, let alone starting for the team.
Zaki’s decline has been easily the most dramatic of the bunch. From being the top scorer of the EPL at one point in the 2008-09 season, Zaki would find himself badly out of form and shape at Zamalek at the end of 2009, and spells at Hull City and Elazigspor have done nothing to reverse this process. Since the start of January, Zaki has been without a club.
From being a modestly respectable striker in the EPL in 2008-09, Mido’s career has only gone downhill in the last four seasons as well. Mido followed Zaki back to Zamalek in Egypt in 2009-10, and the spell had the same effect on him as it did on Zaki: It killed his confidence, and got him badly out of shape and form.
His subsequent spell with Ajax looked promising at first, but it turned out to be a false dawn. Unhappy with his playing time, Mido terminated his contract and fled back home, where registration issues, injuries and the Egyptian revolution combined to limit his playing time to a mere three games in two years.
Now at Barnsley, his fifth club since leaving Wigan at the end of 2008-09, the latest reports (h/t Sheffield Telegraph) have Mido terminating yet another contract after receiving next to no playing time since the start of the season.
Emad Meteb also fell prey to “Egyptian Striker Syndrome.” After completing a much-heralded transfer to Belgian giants Standard Liege in 2010, Meteb got cold feet and ran right back to Al-Ahly, breaking his contract with the Belgian club.
After extensive fall-out and €300,000 paid in compensation, Meteb signed again for Al-Ahly, though he has never returned to his pre-Belgium best.
Finally, the one striker who seemed immune to ESS, and appeared to maintain a level of professionalism higher than any of Egypt’s other big-name strikers, also had his moment of incompetence. With Egypt needing to beat the Central African Republic by a big margin in order to ensure progression to the Africa Cup of Nations in June 2012, Zidan opted instead to leave training camp to negotiate a transfer to a club in China (h/t The Guardian).
Egypt would go on to lose the crucial fixture, and Bradley vowed never to recall Zidan while in charge of the national team.
Now, Bradley has been forced to look at Egypt’s other options up front, and thus far, his search has been very frustrating.
Many hoped the likes of Ahmed Hassan Mekki, Ahmed Ali, Marwan Mohsen, or even Mohamed El-Gabbas would prove good enough to succeed their predecessors. Unfortunately, while some have proven themselves to be better international goal-getters than others, none have been able to really excel against the big teams of international football.
Ahmed Ali’s come closest, with four goals in four international fixtures in the 2010-11 football season, but he’s not yet been given the chance to proven himself under Bob Bradley, despite arguably possessing one of the most impressive resume among the group of strikers available to Bradley.
At times, Bradley has looked to the strikers neglected during the Golden Age of Zaki, Zidan, Mido, Meteb. These include Mohamed Nagy Geddo, Ahmed Abd El-Zaher and Al-Sayed Hamdy.
Again, success has varied. Some strikers like Abd El-Zaher and Ahmed Raouf, both prolific goal-scorers in the Egyptian Premier League, have proven themselves to simply not be good enough on the international stage. But others, like Hamdy and Geddo, have produced varied results.
In the case of Hamdy, all these goals, with the exception of one scored recently in a regular friendly vs Qatar, have been scored in extra-meaningless friendly against the weakest countries of Africa, with said countries only being able to field local players since the games fell outside the time allocated for international fixtures in the FIFA calendar. These games, for the most part, were intended to keep the Egyptian national team fit in the absence of the domestic league.
Against Ghana and the Ivory Coast recently, Hamdy proved to be as ineffective as the many other strikers Bradley has given playing time to since taking over.
The case for Geddo is a little different. Though he’s never been quite as amazing as he was in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, where he introduced himself to the world with five goals as one of best super-subs Africa has ever known, he’s still a capable goal-scorer. In fact, he’s has scored in his last three matches for Egypt, including a consolation goal against the Ivory Coast.
But he’s not an out-and-out striker. He’s been employed on the left-wing in his last three games for Egypt, and labeling him a “second-striker” a la Del Piero might even be a bit generous, since he does enjoy dropping very far back. As such, while he’s an excellent option for the team, he’s not the answer they need up front.
Which brings us to the final group of players, the “unknowns” as I like to call them. These are players who play outside Egypt, who either play in modest leagues where information isn’t easily obtained, or who are still early in their careers and as such we do not yet know enough about them.
Players who fall into this group are Sherif Ashraf of FF Jaro, a club in the Finnish Premier League and Ahmed Hassan ‘Koka’ of Rio Ave. Ideally, this group should be a bit bigger, but unfortunately, the significant majority of Egyptian strikers still prefer the safety and comfort of the Egyptian Premier League (even while it is suspended) than having to prove themselves abroad.
On the flip side of that, the antics of Mido, Zaki and Meteb have made European clubs highly distrusting of Egyptian strikers, despite Ahmed Hassan working so hard with RSC Anderlecht before them to give Egyptian players a good name in Europe.
The jury is still out on Koka and Ashraf. Ashraf’s appearances as a substitute for the ENT have all come as a substitute late in the game, but they’ve not really revealed too much about Ashraf’s game or set him apart from the number of other strikers Bradley has tried with his team.
As for Koka, he’s only 19 years old and just coming into his own as a striker. He looks a very promising prospect, possibly the most promising prospect among Egypt’s current options up front, but it may prove better to wait for him to get into a rhythm with his club team before calling him up to the Egyptian national team (Shortly after the writing of this article, Koka was called up by to the Egyptian national team.)
Right now, Bradley is doing all he can to keep the search for Egypt’s next great striker alive, and with the Egyptian Premier League hopefully set to resume soon, he’ll be able to take a wider and better look at the most in-form front-men in the land of the Pharaohs. Furthermore, as we’ve already established, there are at least two good options in Ahmed Ali and Koka that Bradley has not yet explored as potential long-term starters up-front.
It’s not been easy having to constantly search and search for a reliable player to put up front for the national team, and there’s no denying that Bradley’s work in this department is far from done. However, if Bradley can make the right moves and narrow his pool down to the players with legitimate potential, there is great hope that the answer to Egypt’s striker problem will be found sooner rather than later.
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