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European clubs snap up Egyptian footballers in new trend

Egyptian footballers seem to be becoming a golden commodity for European clubs as football acquisition trends develop

Published: Updated:

Egyptian footballers seem to be becoming a golden commodity for European clubs as football acquisition trends develop.

In January, Mohammad Salah completed a £10 million ($16 million) move to Chelsea – the first Egyptian player to feature for one of England’s traditional “top-four” clubs. It was a real ground-breaker for migrating Maghreb footballers in Europe.

Salah, who quickly became an invaluable player for American football coach Bob Bradley, impressed the former manager of the Egyptian football team.

“While [retired Egyptian footballer] Aboutrika was an experienced player, Salah was just coming and he really made progress quickly. You could tell he was special,” Bradley told Al Arabiya.

“In Egypt, he’s the future. He’s a humble guy and he really came along quickly when we worked with him. Chelsea saw the ability in the matches they played FC Basel, obviously. He’s so quick and can play across the forward line. By all indications, he’s there to compete in the first-team.”

Before being taken up by Chelsea, Salah relocated to Switzerland at the age of 19 and settled into a bedding in process; adjusting to life in Europe as an Arabic speaker with knowledge of only basic English.

Another notable recent move has been Mahmoud “Shikabala” Abdel-Razeq’s move to Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon.
Shikabala said on his Facebook page: “I feel like the Egyptians’ ambassador to Portugal and Europe, and so I don’t want to disappoint them. I want to achieve success to represent my country well.”

Shikabala’s only other stint in Europe came between 2007 and 2009 at PAOK Salonika. However, his spell in Greece was marred by perceived attitude issues. Even at former club Zamalek, one of Cairo’s heavyweight sides, disciplinary issues overshadowed his natural talent. He had several spats with club management, including in 2012 incident which incurred a suspension.

On his return from an African Champions League match in September, he had a confrontation with a pilot officer. Hatem Maher, journalist for Ahram Online, wrote: “He was accused of feigning injury more than once with the Egyptian national team and was repeatedly embroiled in Cairo derby controversies, with his heated exchanges with the fans of Zamalek’s city rivals Ahly dominating headlines.”

It seems the attacking-midfielder has similarities to others who have left home turf over the last decade.

After a decent start at British Wigan Athletic, Amr Zaki went AWOL after a spell on international duty, which led to a public confrontation with football manager Steve Bruce who declared him the “most unprofessional player he’d ever worked with.”

Likewise, Egyptian player Mido – recently appointed head coach of Zamalek – saw poor discipline and a lack of solid professionalism create friction with a number of European coaches when he played for 12 different clubs in seven countries, including spells at Tottenham, West Ham, Middlesbrough, Wigan Athletic, Barnsley, Roma and Ajax.

Outside of the most prominent international players, there is a strong diaspora of Egyptian footballers in some of Europe’s other divisions. As covered by English-language KingFut, there is representation in England’s lower-divisions through Brighton’s Adam el-Abd and Sam Morsy of Chesterfield FC and in the Premier League through Hull City’s Ahmed Elmohamady.

In Switzerland, el-Nenny continues to cement a place in FC Basel’s midfield, whilst there is fleeting representation at FC Luzern in Mahmoud Kahraba and Omar Thali.

Shikabala joins Ahmed Hassan at Rio Ave and Amr Mokhtar of Gil Vicente, among several others, with connections in secondary leagues in the shape of Hossam Ghaly and Ahmed Yasser (Lierse-Belgium), Amir Adel (PSV-Netherlands) and Abdallah Gomaa (FC Union Berlin-Germany).

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Football writer Ross Dunbar has had his work published in a host of publications and has a special interest in German football.