Intervention from the top
The giant problem of Egypt's giant goalkeeper might soon be resolved after President Mubarak personally stepped into the fray, Inas Mazhar
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President Mubarak honoured outstanding Egyptian athletes on Monday, including El-Hadari, currently in the eye of an international club row. Mubarak made it known he would like the goalkeeper's wishes met
On Monday, President Hosni Mubarak honoured Egyptian athletes who have won continental and world championships, awarding them the Sports Order of Merit of the first degree.
The list included handball, volleyball and the Sharqia hockey teams as well as the modern pentathlon, squash , bodybuilding, chess and karate.
Needless to say, the Egyptian national football team was also honoured after winning the Africa Cup of Nations. Among the team members was Essam El-Hadari who has been making front page banner headlines after he absconded to a little known Swiss club two weeks ago, only to return a week later.
El-Hadari apparently has signed with Ahli and Sion and both clubs are awaiting a ruling from FIFA over who has actual rights to the goalkeeper.
Mubarak called on Samir Zaher, the president of the Egyptian Football Association, to put an end to the issue as soon as possible, talk to Ahli officials and find a solution that would satisfy both parties and allow the player to fulfill his dreams of turning professional in Europe.
The president also urged the media to halt its campaign against the player who helped Egypt win the last two African titles and three African Champions League crowns with Ahli. The press and TV have branded El-Hadari a traitor after his escape to Sion without informing his Ahli club first.
El-Hadari, 35, known as the Egyptian High Dam, has been training in Ahli with the juniors goalkeeping coach since his return on 29 February . Security is tight around the player.
El-Hadari's return came after Sion unveiled him as their new goalkeeper at a press conference despite an ongoing dispute over the player with Ahli.
In Switzerland, El-Hadari said he was happy to be at Sion. "I want to concentrate on working with the club and to help my teammates achieve good results and have a good season. I want to help the club win titles. I come from a big team in Egypt, who is supported by almost 90 per cent of the population.
"I had an extraordinary relationship with the players, the club officials and the fans. I just hope they can understand my desire to succeed in Europe and I hope I can maintain that relationship with the Egyptians," El-Hadari told reporters at a press conference in Switzerland right before making his sudden return to Cairo.
At Cairo Airport, El-Hadari was met by about 5,000 people and media representatives. He apologised for leaving his club and said he was happy to be back. El-Hadari told a packed press conference, "I apologise for leaving the club and I'm coming back to stay. I made a mistake and I ask everyone to forgive me. I'm ready to pay Sion for breaking the contract conditions."
Meanwhile, FIFA is to consider whether El-Hadari can complete his disputed move to the Swiss club. El-Hadari did not play any game for Sion which offered Ahli 270,000 euros ($400,000) to buy out the final two years of his contract.
The case is the first test of a landmark ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last month that gives players more power to decide when they switch clubs. FIFA has criticised the ruling that awarded Scottish Premier League side Hearts only the residual value of Andy Webster's contract after the defender unilaterally broke it to join English Premier League team Wigan.
Ahli points to Article 16 of FIFA's Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players which states simply: "A contract cannot be unilaterally terminated during the course of a season."
According to FIFA spokeswoman Adriana Pontieri, the World soccer's governing body has been asked by the Swiss Football Association to take up the case tomorrow. Sion is still awaiting the international registration license of the player from FIFA.
According to reports in the daily Ahram, the president of FC Sion Constantine Cristian said he would take legal action against Ahli if the case was not resolved on a friendly basis.
Cristian said the player is theirs, they will fight for him and their lawyers are ready to defend the case. He said he had allowed El-Hadari to briefly return to Egypt because he felt the player was depressed from being attacked and insulted by Egyptians after signing for his club.
However, Cristian said he was not disappointed with the player's statements of returning back to Cairo. "If you have 5,000 people waiting for you at the airport, you can't say you are still playing for another team. I sympathise with the player. He has gone through a lot and we will see how it goes from here."
El-Hadari has been questioned by Ahli's legal committee twice during the week, the first lasting for four hours in the club's premises in Gezira while the second took place on Tuesday at the Nasr City branch. Media were not allowed in both times. The player was seen coming out of the inquest smiling.
Ahli officials have thus far refused comment until the legal committee submits its report to the board.
By Inas Mazhar