Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 August 2009
Issue No. 959
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Becoming mighty

Ahead of the new league season, Egypt's top football clubs have used the summer transfer window well to strengthen their hands ahead of fierce contest for the title, Ahmed Morsy reports

Click to view caption
Enppi's player tackling his opponent on the ball and the title

The 2009-2010 season of the Egyptian premier league starts today with three games and will be resumed tomorrow with five more. Today, titleholders Ahli host Spinning Mehalla at Military Academy Stadium while the Arab Contractors play against Al-Gaish. As for the third match, Mansoura play their first match this season against Ismaili in El-Mansoura.

On Friday, Zamalek are due to clash against Enppi, Military Production will host Misri, and Petroleum Assiout meet Gouna. Tomorrow, Egyptian Cup winners Haras Al-Hedoud will host the Police Union while Petrojet will also host Ittihad on the same day.

Most critics predict that the new season of the domestic league will witness a fierce challenge on the 2009-2010 title. On their campaigns to claim the title, all teams reinforced their squads by signing new players in the summer transfer window.

For Ahli, coach Hossam El-Badri is aiming to reimpose his own style through employing a 4- 4-2 formation unfamiliar to most Egyptian clubs. His predecessor, Manuel Jose, proved a huge success with a more traditional 3-5-2 formation. Towards the conclusion of last season heated debate arose over the effectiveness of El-Badri's new formation and some held it responsible for the team's friendly defeats. Nevertheless, he stood firm and insisted on applying the new formation in the new season.

Unlike the past few years, Ahli was unable to lure big-name stars like Petrojet, Enppi and Haras Al-Hedoud -- all wealthy clubs -- managed to do, opting to keep its prized assets. The six-time African Cup champions were active in the summer transfer window but had to recruit unknown players from second division sides. While people do not know the likes of Mohamed Khalaf, Wael Shafik and Ateya El-Belkasi, El-Badri had a perfect opportunity to test them during pre-season friendlies.

Yet Ahli pulled a transfer surprise by snatching Ismaili defender Sherif Abdul-Fadil from under the nose of Zamalek Club. The central defender has penned a four-year deal with Ahli for LE7.5 million in a deal that saw Ahli's right-back Ahmed Sedik move to Ismaili. Zamalek looked close to signing Abdul-Fadil after having a LE7 million bid for him accepted by Ismaili. Zamalek, however, were unable to meet Abdul- Fadil's contract demands and the deal eventually collapsed. Ismaili's fierce rivals Ahli were waiting in the wings to acquire Abdul-Fadil.

"Ahli increased their offer to LE7.5 million and agreed to sell right-back Ahmed Sedik to us as part of the deal," Ismaili chairman Nasr Aboul- Hassan stated. "We had to accept Ahli's offer because, unlike Zamalek, they will pay the transfer fees in cash. Ismaili is pushed for money."

"I should have made the move three years ago," an ecstatic Abdul-Fadil told Ahli's official website last Friday. "It's a dream come true to join this prestigious team. I'm looking forward to winning many trophies here."

Abdul-Fadil's arrival will boost Ahli manager El-Badri, who has seen his side suffer from defensive problems during their pre-season friendlies. The 26-year-old is likely to partner Egyptian international Wael Gomaa in the heart of Ahli's defence.

"I hope to repay the faith of Ahli officials and fans. I wish to thank them for everything they've done for me," he added.

Although Ahli's current squad boasts several ex-Ismaili players, none of them joined Ahli directly from the Dervishes. Hence, Abdul-Fadil has become the second player Ismaili has sold to Ahli in a decade after midfielder Mohamed Abdullah, who joined the club in 2005.

The heated rivalry between the sides makes it difficult for them to swap players.

Meanwhile, Ahli have backed down on signing Moroccan striker Abdessallam Benjelloun as they intend to register Algerian playmaker Amir Sayoud. While Benjelloun was set to move to Cairo from Scottish side Hibernian, it seems that Sayoud, dubbed the new Messi, has been favoured over the former.

"The deal with Benjelloun has been cancelled," Ahli board member Khaled Mortagi was quoted as saying by BBC Sport.

"We have a young Algerian player called Amir Sayoud and we consider him the young Messi. From a technical point of view, Sayoud is much better for the team. It has nothing to do with Benjelloun -- he's a great player. But the team needs Sayoud more for the coming season."

Sayoud, 20, impressed for Ahli in pre-season matches, particularly in a friendly game against the Arab Contractors, after signing on a free transfer last month. Moreover, Ahli have completed the signing of former DC United and Liberian striker Francis Doe Forkey. The 23-year- old signed a three-year-contract with the Cairo giants. Doe Forkey previously played for New York Red Bulls and Minnesota Thunder before spending last season with DC United in the American Major League Soccer (MLS).

Doe Forkey is Ahli's sixth signing for the new season after the club brought in Alaa Shaaban, Mohamed Khalaf, Wael Shafik, Mohamed Fadl and Ateya El-Belkasi.

Regarding Zamalek, they have finally managed to make the most out of the summer transfer window. They are now, at least on paper, capable of ending their Egyptian league drought. The team's problems during the past few years were obvious, but a period of administrative instability did not allow recovery. Now, things may have changed under new chairman Mamdouh Abbas, a lifelong Zamalek fan who spent big to reinforce the squad.

Bringing in players like Mido, energetic midfielder Hassan Mostafa and promising Ghanaian Ibrahim Ayew has pumped life into a depleted Zamalek side. In addition to keeping Amr Zaki and Shikabala, and several youngsters who excelled in the latter stages of last season, was also important. Zamalek have completed the loan signing of Mido from English championship second division side Middlesbrough. They announced last Friday that they signed Mido on a season-long loan from Middlesbrough for LE4 million; with a view to a permanent move after paying the club 1 million next summer.

Mido, who came through Zamalek's youth ranks, returns to his boyhood club after spending 10 years in Europe. The 26-year-old played for Gent, Ajax Amsterdam, Celta Vigo, Marseille and Roma before joining Tottenham Hotspur in the English premier league.

"I believe a return to Zamalek will give me the chance to earn an Egypt call-up," he told Al-Hayat TV. "Coach Hassan Shehata phoned me and said he considered recalling me to the national team's squad. Playing on a regular basis will help me a lot."

Mido spent the second half of last season on loan at Wigan Athletic, where he partnered compatriot Amr Zaki upfront for several games. He will now team up with the Bulldozer again.

"I asked Chairman Mr Mamdouh Abbas to keep Zaki at Zamalek. I wish to play with him because we can form the most potent attack in the Egyptian league," Mido said. "We can confirm that Zaki will be with us next season," Zamalek spokesman Sabri Serag confirmed. "There were no suitable bids for him. None of the interested clubs managed to meet our requirements."

Furthermore, Ivorian attacking midfielder Marcel Adiko has become Zamalek's latest close- season acquisition, the club announced last Saturday. Adiko, signed in a four-year deal, has convinced coach Michel Decastel that he was good enough to play for Zamalek after undergoing a trial at the club. The 27-year-old joined the White Knights on a free transfer after his contract with Algeria's ES Setif expired.

He becomes the second foreigner in the Zamalek squad after the club signed Ghanaian international midfielder Ibrahim Ayew. Zamalek are now following in the footsteps of Ahli, which became the sole formidable force in Egyptian football after signing a host of stars in 2004.

As for Ismaili, new signing Essam El-Hadari was unveiled at a recent press conference following his move from Swiss side Sion. Ismaili paid Sion $600,000 for the Egypt number one, despite the fact that he is subject to a four- month ban by FIFA after he moved improperly from Ahli to Sion last year. However, the suspension was lifted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upon the keeper's appeal and Ismaili are hopeful it remains like that.

"We made some impressive signings this summer in El-Hadari, Ahmed Sedik, Ahmed Ali, Ayman Ramadan and Ahmed Abou-Mosallam," Ismaili chairman Nasr Aboul-Hassan said. "I think if El-Hadari was fined it wouldn't be a problem for us because Sion will pay. I am also optimistic that Ahli won't seek further action against him especially that our relationship with them has become better of late," he added.

El-Hadari is expected to start for Ismaili when they host newcomers Mansoura in the premier league opener this weekend.

Ismaili have signed former Ahli and Racing Strasbourg right-back Ahmed Abu-Mosallam, who penned a three-year- contract with the club on a free transfer. He left Egypt for Europe three years ago when he signed for Strasbourg before spending the last six months on loan at Ajaccio. They also reinforced their frontline by signing Azerbaijani striker Branimir Subasic on a free transfer. Ismaili brought in Subasic to fill the void left by the departure of striker Mohamed Fadl, who joined rivals Ahli following his deal's expiry.

Despite their financial worries, last season's runners-up are aiming to strengthen their squads to remain in the chase for the league title.

On the other hand, Gouna are -- according to observers -- likely to become a prominent fixture of the Egyptian premier league in the not-too-distant future, thanks to the huge financial support they receive. They started a buying spree by landing 27-year-old goalie Sherif Ekrami from Dutch outfit Feyenoord, where he failed to secure a regular spot. They later lured Wael Riad and Amr Samaka from Telecom Egypt and Tersana respectively. Both midfielders also played for Ahli some years ago. Afterwards, Gouna brought in defender Rami Adel whom Ahli released this summer, before midfielder Hussein Ali caught up with him directly from the Cairo giants.

Gouna coach Ismail Youssef believes the wholesale changes are essential in order for his side to vie in the premier league. "The changes we made were natural," the former Zamalek midfielder told a press conference last month. "Playing in the premier division is totally different from playing in the second. We should be ready to face bigger teams."

"It will not be easy to play against popular clubs who are backed by large number of fans or clubs who are financially backed by wealthy companies," he added.

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