Ramadan Tales E2: The short-lived Zaki-mania
Happy Ramadan! To celebrate this fantastic month, KingFut are bringing you ‘Ramadan Tales’, a series split over the month telling an enticing and compelling story about Egyptian football. Here, we bring you the short-lived story of Amr Zaki’s fame at Wigan Athletic.
The big stocky Egyptian centre forward, nicknamed the ‘Bulldozer’, has enjoyed a bumpy career travelling to 12 different clubs in seven different countries, whilst only featuring for seven of those clubs.
Amr Zaki began his career at Egyptian minnows El-Mansoura, scoring 9 goals in 20 games for his hometown side; a decent return for a 19-year-old. Zaki’s form with the club earned him a move to petroleum-owned ENPPI in 2003, where he continued to bag the goals, with his first coming against Cairo giants Al Ahly.
After netting 35 times in the span of three years, Zaki, now 23, gained the attention of Lokomotiv Moscow, and after a disappointing €1.7 million move, where he didn’t play a game in Russia, he returned to Egypt with African giants Zamalek.
After two solid seasons at Zamalek, where he added another 30 goals to his tally – the final of which was the winner in Ruud Krol’s White Knights’ Egypt Cup triumph over his former side ENPPI in 2008 – the domestically proven Bulldozer was thrown into the limelight with a year-long loan spell at then-Premier League side Wigan Athletic. Signed by Steve Bruce as a relatively unknown striker, Amr Zaki’s eleven goals in the first half of the season took England by storm, but Zaki-mania faded away much faster.
Zaki’s impact at Wigan was instant; after scoring in two consecutive pre-season friendlies against Sheffield Wednesday and Hibernian, the Egyptian netted on his official debut against West Ham United in the Premier League. This brilliant volley was an insight to the Latic fans of what was to come from their ‘Jewel of the Nile’.
He continued to hit the floor running scoring on his home debut at the JJB Stadium against Nottingham Forest in the Capital One Cup. He picked up the ball and drove forward, passing the ball wide before tapping in the resulting cross.
The Bulldozer then went on to score his first brace for the club in Wigan’s 5-0 rout over his next employers, Hull City. The first was a shot from inside the box, the second on the other hand was a spectacular powerful strike that rippled the net.
He then went on to earn his side a point against Sunderland scoring his side’s only goal of the game.
By this time, all eyes were on Zaki, and Wigan chairman Dave Whelan drew comparisons to the EPL’s all-time leading goalscorer, Alan Shearer, although admitting he was skeptical of the Egyptian at first. “When the boss first mentioned him, I thought: ‘A striker from Egypt? Very unusual,”‘ said Whelan.
“When you look at this lad and his build, he is the same height, weight, everything about him, he is like Alan Shearer,” he insisted.
Things got even better when he scored a winner for Wigan against Manchester City in late September, slotting home a penalty into the bottom right corner beating Joe Hart.
However, the two goals that really bought the Egypt international into prominence was his brace against Liverpool. His first goal was simple and instinctive, feeding off Reina’s poor pass to Daniel Agger and then beating the keeper. Meanwhile, his second goal was far from simple, a majestic volley after a cross from Antonio Valencia. If it wasn’t for Valencia’s red card, Wigan could have gone on to win the game, but they crumbled in the dying embers of the game – much like Zaki’s career in England – and lost 3-2.
Now, Shearer too was impressed by the Pharaoh, admitting in the following Match of the Day analysis.
That remarkable volley was Amr’s last from open play, as he then would solely rely on penalties to add to his impressive tally. He scored from the spot against Portsmouth in a 2-1 away win, before converting against Newcastle over a month later after Emile Heskey was fouled inside the box.
Two days later, Amr Zaki scored his last goal for Wigan, which was [you guessed it right] another penalty; bringing his total of penalties scored for the Latics to four. After a long delay, the Bulldozer sent the keeper the wrong way to give his side all three points.
By New Years, he was the Premier League’s joint top goal scorer with Wayne Rooney on 10 goals. The English media started to speculate where the Egyptian would go, considering he was only on loan at Wigan, with newspapers suggesting Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid as he was branded a ‘superstar’.
“It is Chelsea this week, Real Madrid last week, Liverpool the week before, Man City before that. I think the whole thing needs to be addressed really. It does become a bit repetitive and boring,” said his former manager Steve Bruce.
“All of this nonsense around him, I do believe gets to him a little bit. But I can’t stop this constant speculation about Zaki.”
Stores in the north of England started to run out of the letter Z after a surge in shirts printed with his name on the back. Zaki himself didn’t manage to get his name printed on his kit that he was sending back home to friends and family.
In an interview with the Daily Mail he said, “I bought 10 shirts to take back and had to spell out AMR instead of ZAKI. When I gave them out, somebody said: “Oh, you’ve brought us back fake shirts.”
However, despite having half a season remaining, his career peaked for him there, and his goal-scoring spell ended abruptly, failing to score in his next 13 games!
Matters got worse when he was fined for returning late from international leave, leading manager Steve Bruce to say that he would not be looking to sign the striker due to his unprofessionalism. After deciding Wigan was no longer an option, Zaki decided to move to Hull City where he didn’t manage a single goal in his six games for the club.
The journeyman returned to Zamalek, before he continued on signing for Elazigspor (Turkey), ENPPI, Al Salmiya (Kuwait), Raja Casablanca (Morocco), Al Ahed (Lebanon) and finally Arab Contractors, but unfortunately for Zaki – and his employers – the goals and the Zs were left in England.
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