Ramadan: It was just a bit of skill and it happens here in England as well
Egypt international Ramadan Sobhi was interviewed by The Guardian as he discussed his time at Al Ahly, life at Stoke, and his famous move of standing on the ball.
The 20-year-old is about to conclude his first season with Stoke City, after making 16 league appearances for the English side and is hoping to take part in his side’s final game of the season against Southampton away.
Ramadan moved to the Potters in the summer transfer window for £5m from Al Ahly, and his manager then Martin Jol wasn’t surprised by his move as he expected that he would soon move to Europe. The Dutchman also told his friend José Mourinho to keep an eye on the Egyptian.
“I went for trials at Al Ahly aged eight and they picked me up from the first moment,” he says. “In fact, I faced no real obstacles; I just concentrated on giving my all,” Ramadan told the Guardian.
“It was great to play for my childhood team. I attended matches regularly as a supporter, so I felt a great connection with the fans when playing,” he added.
Ramadona had a great relationship with former Al Ahly manager Garrido until things fell out between them before the 2014 CAF Confederations Cup final against Séwé Sport. “After a game, we had a day off, and when we returned to training I still felt really drained and had pain in my leg,” Sobhi says.
“The game was in front of 100,000 fans which I wasn’t used to, as that is not normal in Egypt. I had always played in front of empty stands. It was really hard to adapt, to face all of those spectators.
“I felt exhausted and that I should miss training. Garrido said I was being lazy, that I was too young to need a rest and that I should be able to play every day at my age.
“We argued and he accused me of doing something wrong off the pitch, suggesting that I was enjoying myself too much. I told him that I was not doing anything wrong, but he didn’t believe me. I said: “You should trust me like I trust you as my coach’ and that it was his choice whether or not to do so, and we left it at that.”
Fans were banned from attending matches because of the 2012 massacre in Portsaid during the match between Al Ahly and Al Masry. They only returned for this match and playing in front of a huge crowd for Ramadan was something new.“Only with a system like in England, which is followed without any exceptions, can we achieve improvements in Egypt,” Sobhi added.
Ramadona started discussing his famous move of standing on the ball during the 2-0 derby victory over Zamalek, which the Whites’ players didn’t accept it at all and their captain Hazem Emam went out of control and received a red card. “It was not arrogance of any kind,” Sobhi insists. “I didn’t do it to prove anything. It was just a bit of skill and it happens here in England as well. In Egypt they just blew it out of proportion, when really it is not a big deal.”
When Sobhi started proving his worth at Al Ahly people doubted his age and it became a big issue. “I was aware of the speculation. People were always talking about this, since I was 12 years old,” he says. “As I got older and became better known, they dragged it up again.
“At Al Ahly they carried out extensive medical testing and if anybody was found to have lied about their age, they would be released, but they kept me there. That was clear proof that I am the age I claim. It was something which people would bring up after I played well; it was fabricated because some people didn’t want me to become successful.
“After spreading the rumour, people have apologised to me and now it’s not like before. Those people respect me because I am representing Egypt while playing in the Premier League. There is more support now,” claims Sobhi.
Adapting to Stoke City and life abroad was much easier with his marriage to Habiba, Sherif Ekramy’s sister, and also his Muslim faith helped. “If you are trying to adapt to something and you don’t feel the pressure of life, it helps. If you are not adapting to the way of life somewhere it would be a big problem, but I am settled.
“My marriage will give me more support to concentrate on the pitch. I think it was a really good step for me to make. Religion is separate from football; it’s a way of living, a personal thing. It does relate [to sport] because believing in God helps you to believe in hard work. It gives you self-confidence because I believe if you work hard, then God will help you to move forward and to progress.”
Ramadan revealed that his closest friends at the club are Marc Muniesa, Ibrahim Afellay, and Marko Arnautović, adding that he would like to be selected more often in the starting XI but he has no problem with Mark Hughes’ selections.
“I want to play but Mark Hughes makes the decisions. I did get some chances and I just tried to do my best. If the chance comes again, I will perform better and better. Right now, I’m not playing, but I respect the manager’s point of view. All I can do is work hard, train hard and concentrate,” he added.
Ramadona has been performing at a very high level every time he gets the chance and one time after Middlesbrough match Jon Walters, his team-mate, tweeted: “Big mention to “Ramadona” who sent a few Boro defenders home with twisted blood!”
Ramadan insisted that the praise he gets when he performs makes him want to perform much better the match afterwards: “The praise I receive makes me want to give 200%, not 100%. I will never stop dreaming,” he concluded.
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