Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The legend of 22

Having apparently insulted the famed jersey, does Bassem Morsi really know the history behind the number? Ahmed Hamdi reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Huge controversy has followed the posting of a picture of Zamalek’s dreadlocked Bassem Morsi who celebrated his recent call-up to the national football team by taking a picture of himself holding up his number 22 national team jersey, sticking his tongue out and a holding a chili pepper. Many said the picture was meant to insult supporters of giant football rival Ahly because the number had been made famous by Mohamed Abu Treika, the team’s legendary player who retired in 2013.

 The red chili pepper was described as an improper suggestion.

According to Zamalek’s head of football operations Ismail Youssef, the picture understated the value of the number 22 jersey, which although not worn by many, has been made famous by a few big names that will go down in history as some of the best players to ever set foot on the green grass.

Abu Treika was not the first to wear the number 22 jersey, neither in Egypt nor around the world. When the former playmaker put it on for the first time in 2004, it had already been worn in the famous Italian city Milan by Kaka, the golden boy of the city’s biggest team, AC Milan.

Kaka is a name that, despite losing its spark in the past few years, has already been carved out in the history of football having won everything a player could ask for. He is a World Cup title winner with Brazil in 2002, European Champions League winner, UEFA Super Cup winner, Serie A winner, and La Liga winner. The Brazilian player raised the number 22 to new heights, having won the FIFA Golden Ball as best player in the world in 2007.

Another player who wore No 22 and with class was Angel Di Maria, when he represented Real Madrid, before moving this season to Manchester United. Di Maria had won many trophies with Real Madrid, but most importantly he played a crucial part in winning the legendary La Decima, as they call it in Spain, the 10th Champions League title for the royals.

From Madrid to their rivals Barcelona, the No 22 has been worn in the last decade by two big stars who played a huge part in the dream team that won every single trophy there is for a European club to win: left back Eric Abidal, who left last season to Monaco, and the current right back who still wears 22 today, Dani Alves.

The shirt was made famous in Egypt by Abu Treika who moved to Ahly in the winter transfer of the 2003-2004 season, coming from Tersana. He chose to wear a then ordinary number in Ahli, 22. It did not take him long before making it the most selling jersey in Egypt. Throughout Abu Treika’s time with Ahli and until his retirement, the once common numeral became the most famous number in the country.

The same number was recently worn by another Egyptian superstar, the current Fiorentina superman Mohamed Salah. Although he now wears the number 74, Salah started out in Europe with the 22 jersey in Basel in Switzerland where he made himself known to the top level teams, to eventually be bought by Chelsea and then loaned to the Violas.

Some players who have donned the 22 became so famous their teams had their number retired. No 22 is retired at the South African team Orlando Pirates after the death of their former striker Lesley Manyathela in 2003. In Norway, the team Viborg FF decided to retire the number after the retirement of their legend Søren Frederiksen.

Morsi has since apologised for the photo that made the Facebook rounds. Ahly supporters feel Morsi is not good enough to wear the number, and that it is a slight to Abu Treika.

Ahly and Zamalek are in the end Egypt’s two biggest football clubs and their rivalry is the stuff of legends. Morsi’s gesture simply added spice to this often heated relationship.

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