EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Egyptian handball star Mohamed Sanad
Egypt’s inverted winger talks to KingFut’s Ramez Nathan about his career path beginnings, his past two European spells and the new chapter of his career that is about to kick-off in France this September.
Ramez Nathan (KingFut): Hello Sanad, thank you for your time. Growing up as a kid you were a multi-sport athlete. I know that along with handball, you were the best football player and basketball player in your school class. Have you always knew you wanted to be a handball player? And why?
Mohamed Sanad: Hi Ramez, I’m a person who loves almost all kinds of sports, however handball was my passion since I was 8 years old. I loved the sport and what got me attached to handball was my team, I have great friends and since day one until now, my Heliopolis teammates have always been my best friends.
RN: You didn’t grow up entirely focusing on sports, you were always good at school and you ended up graduating from the AUC with a Bachelor Degree in Economics and Double Minor in Business Administration & in Architecture. How did you manage to balance between your studies and your sports career?
MS: Actually, sports was a big part of my life even before I went to AUC, it affected many of my decisions throughout my years at AUC. For example, I changed majors from architecture to economics after almost 3 years, not because I didn’t like architecture or because I wasn’t good at it, but because architecture was very time-consuming and it was really difficult to be able to concentrate on handball, so I decided to change to economics and finish architecture as a minor. Alongside economics, I wanted to finish business as a minor also because I felt that the courses in the minor would benefit me in the future whether I want to work in the sports field or not.
RN: You grew up through all of the youth sectors of Heliopolis Sporting Club. When did you realize that you were going to be a professional handball player? Was there a moment or were there a series of moments? Can you tell us more about the big turning points of your life?
MS: The biggest turning point in my life was when Captain Mohamed El-Alfy, the head coach of Heliopolis’s first team and the head coach of the youth national team, decided to call me to join. Although I was two years younger, he took me to play with the Heliopolis first team when I was just 15 years-old. He gave me a chance and I didn’t prove him wrong, as I helped the Heliopolis first team get promoted to the 1st division league.
My performances that year got me high recognitions and the name ‘Sanad’ started to ring bells at the handball community. At this point my professional handball career was kicking-off, and by the time I was 18 years-old, I was loaned to Zamalek Club which was the best club in Egypt as they held Egypt’s top players in their squad. My first participation with them was at the Super Globe.
Stepping onto the [court] next to the likes of Ahmed El Ahmar and Hassan Yousri, we faced the world’s most talented players and it was an indescribable feeling. I thought that was something I would only witness on TV, and there I was.
After the competition, I signed a contract for Zamalek and played with them for many African championships and two more Super Globes. This too was a turning point; I really developed as a player there.
RN: With your responsibilities growing in your personal life, just a few months after getting married, you received an offer from a small club in Hungary. A whole other country, new culture, new language. This surely was not an easy step by any means, can you walk us through it?
MS: It was my dream to play in Europe and it is never easy for an Egyptian player to play in Europe, because it doesn’t only depend on whether you’re a good player or not. It is extremely complicated, I almost gave up and I started working at Orascom Construction Company. I had a good job with a great future, but deep down I did not feel right about it. Then, one day I got that offer from a small team in Hungary, and it wasn’t an easy decision but in the end with the support of my wife and my family I decided to take the challenge. We saw it as a chance, a chance to show the European handball community what I was capable of. As we started, it was really tough, but as time passed things got better and better.
RN: Just a year after, you moved to the runner-up of Liga ASOBAL. As a handball player, what are the biggest lessons you learned at Naturhouse La Rioja and why did you leave Spain?
MS: Playing at Naturhouse La Rioja was an amazing step, especially that they participated in the Champions League which is anyone’s dream to play in Europe’s most elite competition. I gained a lot of experience; I saw how top teams trained and what the life of a professional athlete is like. Playing at such a top level develops you more than you expect. Leaving Spain was a difficult decision, but the club had some financial problems so I thought the best decision was to move on to a different challenge.
RN: You are about to move to the beautiful historical city of Nîmes. How does it feel moving every year to a different country? Do you consider it a struggle you go through or a delight of new experiences?
MS: No it’s not a struggle moving from one country to another. I get the chance to explore different countries, meet new people and learn new languages. Moving to France is a big step for me as the French handball league is now the top handball league in the world along with the German Bundesliga so I’m really excited about next season.
RN: What can make your next season with USAM Nîmes Gard successful? Are you aiming for lots of goals, a qualification spot to the EHF Cup, or just avoiding relegation?
MS: I’m really looking forward for next season. It will be an exciting one, especially that our target now is to get a spot in the EHF Cup, so it’s going to be a tough season. On a personal level, I’m hoping to be able to become one of the best wingers in the French League and to develop myself further as a player.
RN: You faced two French clubs in the EHF Champions League last season. How is French handball different from Liga ASOBAL? And do you know that Montpellier keepers have nightmares of you?
MS: As I told you before the French league is considered the strongest league in the world along with the Bundesliga. It’s different because all teams are strong, the competition is more popular in France and the coverage and exposure is much better. Last season I played two games against Montpellier and I believe I had memorable performances against them, as I scored 13 goals in the two games with a 100% shot on target, so yeah, it felt great.
RN: Can you name three people that have changed your life and how they did so?
MS: My family – they have always supported me when I was young, they encouraged me on always wanting to improve, they pushed me to follow my dreams and they supported all my decisions no matter how risky they were. Also, my wife Samia Montasser for the same exact reason, she has been my backbone since I met her, she always supported my decisions, she compromised and compromised just so I can follow my dream. Finally, Captain Mohamed El Alfy, as he was the coach who believed in me and gave me a chance at such a young age. He is the reason I turned out to be the player I am now.
RN: The biggest upset of your professional career? Egypt getting knocked-out of the World Cup, the Olympics, the loss in the final with Heliopolis or is there something else we don’t know?
MS: To be honest, there is no such thing as biggest upset of my career. There are many moments where I was upset but in the end that’s what being an athlete is all about. You will always have your ups and downs but never let anything break you. If you fight hard you will always reach your goals.
RN: You are currently studying for the MBA Degree in Sports Management from the European University of Madrid. Can we consider the Mohamed Sanad Handball Camp the first fruit of your studies? What are your big dreams for this project?
MS: The MS91 Camp is a small step to the plans I have for my future after I stop playing handball. I definitely want to continue my career in the sports industry, and my dream is to change the sports industry in Egypt as a whole not just in handball.
RN: Do you think one day you might make another return to Heliopolis Sporting Club?
MS: Heliopolis is my home club and definitely there’s a big chance to return there after I finish my professional career in Europe.
RN: We cannot wait to watch your displays in France! Thank you for your time.
MS: Thank you very much, a pleasure.
KingFut would like to thank Mohamed Sanad for his time and wish him the best of luck this season and in the future.
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