INTERVIEW: The story of Al Ahly’s unforgettable captain Hady Khashaba
It was a hotel, yet Hady Khashaba was in one of his favorite places, not the actual physical place, but the fact he finally got back to that familiar feeling of joy between the squad members of a football team, their director of football.
He sat down with his well-known admirable smile and started to talk about the players that excite him and his new journey at Assiouty Sport with his former teammate and current Assiouty Coach Ali Maher.
“You have to watch the quality of Assiouty’s Mahmoud Salah and Mohannad Lashin! Two brilliant midfielders that can play at any top team in Egypt and can even make it abroad very soon,” Khashaba said.
“The club contacted me as they needed someone to help in their development in terms of management and execution and the fact that Ali was here now, made the decision very easy for me.”
Khashaba and Maher have been on the same roster for years, playing side by side at Al Ahly, the national team and after retirement Khashaba welcomed the former striker to the academy of the Red Devils.
“I have always liked Ali since he joined Al Ahly as a player, he always had a positive attitude with lots of ambitions. He is the kind of guy that always works on himself, he started coaching at Al Ahly academy, while I was working at the club at that time, there was something very special and unusual about him which forced us to make him the head coach of the youth team and afterwards as you see he made his breakthrough, coaching a first team.”
As the former Al Ahly defensive midfielder blessed the football pitch for almost two decades, he played next to the country’s finest talents and KingFut handed him the task of picking his favorite player in every position.
“The late Thabet El-Batal, was the best shot-stopper no doubt about it,” he said.
“Mohamed Youssef was an excellent left back with an ability to build up the attack with his runs and deconstruct the opponents’ attempts by tracking them down.”
“The midfielder has to be Walid Salah El-Din, he was extremely talented, you can always experience how his presence with the ball was different than any other midfielder. People may watch him and think he is entertaining but as I played next to him I saw his tactical brilliance and I believe coaches should have awarded him much more playing time.”
“Upfront it will be no other than, Hossam Hassan, he was like superman! It’s incredible how he received the ball and fired his shots, I had a very special chemistry with him on the pitch.”
“If we pick a coach, I would like to put the late Mahmoud El-Gohary, he was brilliant, he had his own system, a system in which each of us knew exactly what our role was and performed it perfectly.”
El-Gohary was one of the people that quickly, recognized the bags of talent that Khashaba had in his deadly boots and gave him his national debut in a friendly against Malawi right after the World Cup, while the midfielder was only 17, by that time and he went on to feature for more than 90 games for the national team.
However, Khashaba does not consider this to be his debut for Egypt as he has been representing the country throughout all of the youth ranks. “I played more than 90 games for the first national team and almost the same amount when I was a teenager which is actually how I ended up at Al Ahly.”
Since he was a little boy, Khashaba has always been obsessed with sports, he played football and tennis and growing up among die-hard Al Ahly fans in his family, he always held the Club of Century dear to his heart. “The tennis court was right next to the football field, I used to finish one training and head to the other. And by the time I went home I’d watch Al Ahly games with my family,” he said.
The young boy opted to focus on football, joining local club Al Baladiya in Assiout, as he played with the U16 team while he was still 11.
Moving forward, Khashaba captained the newly formed U13 team to participate in a small league between the clubs of Upper Egypt and as the midfielder grew in stature and wisdom, he got handpicked to join the U16 national team in their World Cup qualifications.
“My father was a former Egyptian FA Member, however, he didn’t tell the scout I was among the kids playing. He wanted me to make it on my own.”
Although Egypt did not go through, Khashaba created enough buzz to join the U19 team that went on to win the Africa Cup of Nations which automatically qualified them to play the World Cup in Portugal.
The experience pushed the player to join the Olympic team in 1992 and although the team lost its first two games to Spain and Qatar in the group stage, Khashaba had his own special story in the final game with Colombia.
“We were already out of the competition and were 2-1 down to Colombia, so at the break, the coach asked if anybody wants to rest, I raised my hand, which made him shout at me insisting that I continue playing. I agreed and in the last two minutes of extra time I went on to score a brace and gave Egypt the only win in the tournament.”
Between all these national call-ups, Ibrahim Abdel-Samad signed the youngster for Al Ahly and although he did not feature a lot for the youth sectors due to his many national duties, the promising talent of Khashaba seemed enough to fill the gaping hole left by Magdy Abdel-Ghany since the latter moved to Portugal.
At Al Ahly, Khashaba learned to marry strength and aggression with grace and elegance, forcing the coaches to build their lineups around his efforts. He gave masterclasses on deconstructing the oppositions’ attacks by his perfectly timed tackles, while commanding the middle of the park by being the first focal point in the build-up for the attack.
However, at the start of his career Al Ahly failed to win the title for four years and with the club’s fall in form, Khashaba was regarded highly by former Egypt national manager Nol de Ruiter who made him an offer as soon as he got back to the Eredivisie.
“After the club received an official offer, I went to the CEO Saleh Selim and asked him if I can leave, but he highly preferred that I stay as he has just formed a very strong squad and had high hopes that we could achieve something special. He was right, after four dry years, we went on to win the league seven consecutive seasons!”
Khashaba along with his teammates wrote one of the most memorable eras in the history of the Red Castle, they took the league by storm shattering the expectations of every opponent.
For the midfielder there was one memory that out-stood all his triumphal games for Al Ahly, it was the game where he fired two penalties against Zamalek, handing his club the victory as the game ended 1-3.
“I scored a double in the biggest game of the season, my father called me afterwards to congratulate me, he told me it was great for me to score three goals, I replied that they were only two, then he said that I did score two on the field and I now got a new baby, Youssef, I got a newborn son on the same day!” said Khashaba with huge smile.
UAE’s Baniyas and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Wehda also had offers on the table for Al Ahly’s captain, but there was a special bond between the player and his club, a love relationship in an almost poetic technique, something bigger than money in the Gulf, or pride in Europe.
When the day came for Khashaba to bring down the curtain on his outstanding journey in 2006, the stadium was fully packed to celebrate the farewell of that ethereal being.
After the final whistle, the captain stood with a firm hand holding the microphone giving one last powerful testament sending shivers to every player hoping to one day wear the red outfit of the Kings of Africa.
“I played 448 games for Al Ahly. 18 years as a player and another eight years between the managerial board and directors of the club,” said the 45 -year-old current director of football at Assiouty .
There are players that are best remembered at Al Ahly for filling the club’s cabinets with silverware, others are famed for their scoring records or single moments of brilliance, then comes Khashaba who elevated the game to an exalted level with his beast mode on the pitch and his humility out of it, quoting Wael Reyad Cheetos’ song on his farewell he was ‘best of the best’ or as Mahmoud El-Khatib perfectly put it he was the perfect example and the role model to follow.
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