Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Child’s play

A 14-year-old recently created a storm of a debate and furious feedback within Egyptian football circles, reports Inas Mazhar

Ziad Al-Sheifi
Ziad Al-Sheifi
Al-Ahram Weekly

Although Ahly demolished Al-Gouna 13-0 in an Egyptian football cup game, setting the highest record in the history of the championship, remarkably the score was not the biggest news. What made the headlines was Al-Gouna’s inclusion of Ziad Al-Sheifi who was the talk of the town when he became the youngest football player, at only 14, to take part in an official Egyptian football match.

It all began on Thursday last week when the round of 16 match referee Mahmoud Al-Banna whistled to allow a substitution for Al-Gouna. To the surprise of officials and Ahly, as well as television viewers, a youngster, soon to be announced as 14 years old, and donning the yellow jersey of Al-Gouna, appeared on the sidelines, shook hands with the teammate he substituted, entered the pitch and took up his position. Al-Sheifi’s teammates were not much older with an average age of 17.

Al-Gouna had last month been relegated to the second division in the league championship and thus the team had disbanded to the point where only their juniors were available for the Ahly cup game.

But there was something else. Al-Gouna also decided to use their juniors to show their objection to the decisions of the Egyptian Football Association Players Committee which ignored the regulations of the association regarding the Dakhlia squad. According to the rules, Dakhlia should have been relegated to the second division for playing an unregistered player in its game against the Military Production team. The committee fined the player LE100,000 in addition to a six-month suspension but issued no punishment to Dakhlia itself.

Al-Gouna were angry because they believed Dakhlia should have been relegated like them but were not, and accused the EFA of bias towards them.

It was the second time in Egyptian football history that a team plays one of the country’s two major competitions with a junior team. Ahly took a decision to play with the junior team against arch rivals Zamalek, also in the FA Cup, in 1985.The team’s head coach Mahmoud Al-Gohari and his players were in dispute with the Ahly management and its president Saleh Selim. Selim took the unprecedented decision of suspending Al-Gohari and his players and played instead with the junior team.

That team, however, did the impossible, beating Zamalek’s first team 3-2 and in fact went on to win the cup. That match opened the doors for future stars like Hossam and Ibrahim Hassan, Tarek Khalil, Mohamed Al-Sayed, Badr Ragab, Shams Hamed and Mohamed Hashish. The players had stunned Zamalek’s top stars of the time — Gamal Abdel-Hamid, Ashraf Kassem, Adel Al-Maamour, Ayman Younes and Hisham Yaken.

The 14-year-old Ziad is the son of Ahmed Al-Sheifi, director of Al-Gouna’s football team. The father was heavily criticised by media and football officials for pushing his son into the game and putting him under pressure in addition to allegedly violating EFA regulations concerning age limits of players.

But Ziad himself had a different reaction. He said he was happy with the experience and said that the Ahly players welcomed him, adding that defender Ahmed Fathi asked to exchange his shirt with him.

Traditional and social media were not as kind as Ziad, and didn’t wait until the end of the game. The boy was suddenly dubbed ‘Al-Gouna Child’, and there were calls for EFA officials to resign immediately for allowing such a scandal to happen. Surprisingly, there has been no reaction from the EFA except to say it was checking the rule book to see if indeed a player as young as 14 could play in the cup.

Referee Al-Banna told the media that he had checked the names of all the players before the match, as is usual. He said all the players were registered in the EFA and that there was no objection to Ziad, born in 2001, playing the game.

President of the Zamalek Club Mortada Mansour called on EFA officials to cancel the result of the match, suspend the referee and the match commissioner and penalise Al-Gouna.

While social media users mocked the father, claiming that he pushed his son just to have the chance to take pictures with the Ahly superstars, Al-Sheifi said he was only delivering a message to the EFA.

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