Mahmoud Shikabala: Egypt’s Lost Generation
In this new series, KingFut takes a look at players who never left a mark on the national team as they got caught between a hat-trick of AFCON titles and a return to the World Cup.
Writer, Eva takes a look at the first of these players; Shikabala. The attacking midfielder is going to go down as one of Zamalek’s greats but has only earned 26 caps in an international career that began 12 years ago.
Mahmoud Abdelrazek Fadlallah, better known as Shikabala, developed in the Zamalek academy from 1996 till he joined the first team in 2002. He made his debut for the White Knights against Ghazl El Mahala in the Egypt Cup game where he scored the winning goal. From there, Shikabala, the player was born.
It was at this time that Zamalek itself was going through a generation shift with legends like Hazem Emam and Abdelhalim Ali getting closer to retirement. As a result, Shikabala became a more integral part of the squad. This was best seen in his ability to become the provider the aging stars needed.
A pinpoint assist for Hazem Emam against Petrol Assiout, another against Ismaily for Abdelhalim Ali are moments that will always be remembered by Zamalek fans to have made up his first stint with the Zamalek.
In January 2005, Shikabala moved on a free transfer due to PAOK. He scored 4 goals in 27 appearances for the Greek side. But he eventually returned to Zamalek in January 2007 with controversy over having supposedly signed for rivals Al Ahly.
Over this period, legendary coach Hassan El Shehata gave the 21-year old winger his national team debut against Mauritania in a qualification match for the 2008 African Cup of Nations.
Second Stint with Zamalek
Shikabala’s second spell with Zamalek was arguably the best of his three. El Abatshy as the Zamalek fans have come to call him continued to dazzle the fans with his dribbling and incredible goals, which included a hattrick of free kicks against Ittihad of Alexandria and plenty of solo goals.
As a result of his performances, he earned a call up to the Egypt squad in the African Cup of Nations in 2010, but only played 68 minutes against Mozambique.
But another obstacle stood in his way when the league was cancelled after the Port Said incident. Zamalek loaned him to Gulf side, Al Wasl till the end of the 2013 season before selling him to Sporting CP. The move that arguably altered Shikabala’s history as a player.
Disagreements with the coach, lack of playing time, and endless back-and-forth statements marred Shikabala’s time with the Portuguese giants. He returned to Egypt to play against Tunisia in September 2014 as part of the African Cup of Nations 2015 qualifiers.
However, after the match he refused to return to Sporting causing more issues for the player. He received a ban from FIFA for the 14/15 season including international games.
Third Stint with Zamalek
At the end of his ban, Shikabala re-signed with Zamalek but with the squad list already full, he was initially loaned to Ismaily for the 15/16 season. He made eight appearances for El Darwish, scoring two goals and assisting four others before being recalled by Zamalek in January due to the club’s poor performances.
In his second game for Zamalek, after his second return, he scored his most well known goal of his third stint with the White Knights against ENPPI. Later, despite putting in a great performance against Wydad Casablanca in the semifinals of the 2016 CAF Champions League, the star couldn’t save Zamalek from the loss of the title to Mamelodi Sundowns.
However, 31-year old star couldn’t keep Zamalek from struggling in the league, including being beaten by Al Ahly both home and away. The underperforming season ended with Zamalek in third place.
With a board that wanted to make a complete changes to the team, Shikabala moved on loan to Saudi side Al Raed. The move has sparked life into his playing career with five goals and two assists to his name in nine appearances. His performances earned him a call-up for Egypt’s final group stage match in World Cup Qualifying against Ghana where he scored Egypt’s only goal.
But the attacking midfielder is nowhere near securing his spot to Russia next summer. Many would argue his age is a factor and the fact that there are many preferred players who play in his position.
The cancellation of the league at the peak of his powers led him to a poor move to Al Wasl. Another rushed move to Sporting CP, where he didn’t play at all, followed by a season long ban hindered him from having influence on the Egyptian national team.
Zamalek fans have always been given the treat of watching El Abatshy dazzle, but many more haven’t been able to appreciate his presence and abilities.
Will Shikabala be given a final chance at the next World Cup to impress Egyptian fans or is it quite simply too late?
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