Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 December 2003
Issue No. 668
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Ahmed Hossam:

Portrait of a young pro

By Nashwa Abdel-Tawab

It is not hard to find a young Egyptian with a passion for his country's national sport. In a nation driven incomparably by football, Ahmed Hossam's mindset is very much the norm. But he is not.

Twenty-year-old Hossam -- known amongst fans as "Mido" -- has moulded himself into a national football icon in the space of a few short years, taking some skills, raw talent, and an unwavering drive, to propel himself to the top.

Since his debut in the international football arena three years ago, Mido has been the talk of the local football sphere. He has passion, he has talent, and he has the drive and charisma which have led fans, players and football critics alike to nickname him the "dramatic hero".

Mido is hard to break down; his on and off-pitch personalities have created around him the media-coined description of "aura of enigma". Off the pitch he watches the shine of the spotlight carefully, adorning himself in the latest fashions and making his presence felt at the country's hippest parties. Unwatched, he has been caught acting his age, sliding the banisters, goofing around with friends, and driving his sports car mindlessly around the city -- parking it carelessly, randomly, on side-streets to join in on Egypt's most popular pastime; street football.

Born to a middle-class Egyptian family, Mido -- like most other youngsters across the country -- grew up playing ball on the streets of the country that invented it. His drive and focus set him apart from the other young boys he played ball with, and he skipped school to pursue his professional football aspirations.

Signed-on to the African power house Zamalek, striker Mido was quick to taste victory -- scoring three goals in his first four games with the main team, and playing a key role in propelling the team to the victory podium at the 2000 African Cup Winner's Cup Championship.

His play spoke for itself, and at 17 Mido was whisked off to Europe -- joining the Belgian Standard Liege team under Tomislav Ivic. Ivic, however, gave Mido little attention, and the chatter to take him on elsewhere escalated in the European league. Among the seekers were former Standard player, agent Roger Henrotay, and France's Paris Saint-German.

The outcome was almost determined by his age -- a bout of homesickness leading to his request to go home. At his father's refusal, Mido was forced to persist, signing on with Ghent and gaining what he has called "the mentality of a pro".

"I had asked for two or three young people for reinforcements," Ghent's then-new coach Patrick Remy says of the time -- September 2000. "Mido immediately came in mind. I put him on the bench once, then I established him in his place among the best strikers, which started something. He was 17-and-a-half-years- old, and it already looked like he had responsibilities. Mido already had great technical capabilities and was prepared to take risks."

Mido finished his first season in Europe scoring 11 goals in 21 matches with Ghent, and fast became a Belgian favourite. He was awarded the honour of "Ebony Boot" as the best African player in the Belgian league, as well as "Discovery of the Year" in the Belgian league for the 2000-2001 season.

The Egyptian prodigy was in high demand, and he appeared poised for a move to Belgian power house Anderlacht. But a last-minute change of heart sent him packing and heading across the border to the Netherlands, to join the country's most famous club, Ajax of Amsterdam. It was a decision which fuelled his last game of his Ghent season.

"It was the last match of championship," his manager said. "Mido had just signed for Ajax Amsterdam and he could have headed elsewhere. One remembers this day at Antwerp, an unconquered team. We gained a 3- 1 win, and finished 4th, qualified for the Inter-Toto Cup. Mido did everything. He scored the first goal and marked the two others. After that, he invited us to the restaurant."

It was perhaps that charm and trademark Egyptian warmth that catapult him into the heart's of the Dutch. With Ajax, he scored 38 goals in 70 matches -- the streak ending in the team's ultimate Dutch league and Cup championship wins.

Despite his short pro-period in Europe, Mido is the only Egyptian to win a European League Title (Holland 2002) and the only Egyptian to make Domestic Triple in Europe 2002 (Dutch League, Cup and Super Cup).

Having since been with Zamalek, Mido was loaned to Spain's Celta Vigo earlier this year. He made his presence felt, helping Vigo qualify for the European Champions League with a decisive goal against Real Sociedad in a 3-2 win last June. He scored four goals in eight matches with Celta Vigo. Lotina, the team's coach, raised Mido to football saint status by comparing him to Bulgarian superstar Luboslav Penev.

"He is not that technically gifted yet but strikes very well with the two legs," Lotina said. "He knows how to handle the ball in the style of Penev, and their characteristics come to match very well. He runs inside to receive the ball and plays well outside the area behind the last line. To him both legs do the job, mainly with the left."

His Spanish loan was short, ending with his jetting- off to France to play for Olympique Marseille (OM) for 12 million euros, where he has already been chosen best Olympique Marseille (OM) player of the month after his impressive performances in November -- scoring in the team's 0-2 victory against Lille, and scoring a couple more goals in the top clashes with Real and against Monaco.

Mido's track record includes: Best CAF Young Player of the Year 2002; Third CAF Best Footballer of the Year 2002; Best Egyptian Player Abroad by Egyptian Football Association 2002 & 2003; and the best Uprising Egyptian Footballer 2001.

With Egypt, he took the third Place in African Cup Youth Championship in Ethiopia 2001. Mido has 30 International Caps, in which he scored 15 goals. He participated in African Nations Cup 2002, playing four games and scoring one goal.

"He's a complete player, frightening to see, effective in passing, unselfish and believes in teamwork, equipped with a solid strikers left foot, kicks with both legs, with good protection of ball," Remy said of him. "He creates chances and tries many things, is never discouraged, and he's not afraid of anything. That's why the public likes Mido, because he is a good guy, athletic, very fresh for his age and creates chances for the team showing no selfishness."

Among his numerous international advertising stints -- in which he stands alongside other international football stars -- Mido is playing a pro-active role in supporting Egypt both as host for ACN 2006, and as a candidate for the 2010 World Cup bid. Marseilles Director Laurent Carenzo called him the "best" ambassador for his country.

And Mido himself says he intends to bring the World Cup to his country.

"The love of football in Egypt is spectacular," Mido says. "The National Team makes 125,000 people come to the stadium. The people have to come three hours before. There is no other country in the world that loves football as much as we do. The Egyptian love of football is something very special."

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