Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

African boomerangs

Ahmed Hamdi reports on Africans who once played in the Egyptian league, left, then came back for more

Al-Ahram Weekly

Just when you think they’re gone, they come back, rebranded, wearing a new shirt with new colours. Some were once stars spangling in the Egyptian sky. Their names were talked about in every corner and every café there is but, with few exceptions, their return was never the same. These are the African players who came, left and returned to the Egyptian football league.

On Africans leaving the Egyptian league and coming back, the first that would have to pop in the mind of any Egyptian fan would be Ahmed Felix. Felix was a Ghanaian striker who joined Ahly in 1993 and played for the Red Devils for six years, creating a great partnership with teammate and Egypt's number one striker back then Hossam Hassan. With Ahly, Felix made sure his name was written in the history books of Egyptian football as one of the best African players to play in the Egyptian league, scoring 47 goals in 117 matches.

Felix left Ahly in 1998 for Greece, but years later, after several unsuccessful experiences in several countries, he made his return to Egypt this time with Ahly’s long-time rivals Zamalek, to play again next to Hassan, and rebrand their famous duet, this time in white. Despite their reunion, the duet was not as successful as they were in the past. Felix played just 20 matches and scored only five goals. He left Cairo for good after only six months. "When I decided to go back to Zamalek it was a mistake. Sometimes you take wrong decisions in your life. I never loved a club like Ahly," he said in an interview nearly 10 years later.

Another player who rebranded himself three times in the Egyptian league is Samuel Johnson, the Guinean who first started in Egypt with Baladyet Al-Mehalla in 2004. He then joined Ismaili the next season where he spent two seasons playing only 13 matches, and was loaned out to Kazma of Kuwait. A season later, he returned again to Egypt but to put on new colours as he joined Al-Geish in which he did not make much of an impact.

In the same year that Johnson was introduced to Egyptian football, another player called Ernest Papa Arko also made his debut in Cairo joining Zamalek. However, he did not stay long at the White Castle, as he played only five matches and scored a single goal before going on loan to Al-Geish. The army team later bought his contract, spending nearly a decade in the club and becoming one of the key players of the red, white and black. In 2012, it was time for a new experience for the Ghanaian. He packed up his bags and left Cairo for the first time to join Al-Arabi of Qatar. Arko, though, could not stay away for long; he came back the next season to join Semouha. Not as successful as before, Arko left Semouha and joined Arab Contractors but still could not find the same form he had with Al-Geish, to finally terminate his contract with the Wolves and leave Egypt for good.

Another Ghanaian who played in Egypt and had quite a reputation was Akwetey Mensah. He started his career in Egypt 11 years ago when he put on the green shirt of Masri. For a whole season he became one of the biggest stars of the team, enticing Ahly to buy him in the summer transfer period of the next season. But just six minutes into his first match with the Cairo giants, he suffered a tear in his knee ligaments which took him off for the rest of the season. Since then he has not recaptured his form. Mensah went back to Masri in 2007 and spent another two years. He then left to Belgium to join Lierse before coming back to Egypt again to Wadi Degla then Ittihad Al-Shorta. Not finding the success he once had, he left again to Iraq this time to join the team called the Iraqi Air Force.

A similar story happened to the two Burkinabé players Abdallah Cisse and Mohamed Kofi. Both became stars with both Masri and Petrojet respectively. Cisse joined Zamalek after the Port Said massacre in 2012, but could not find the same success. He later headed east to Libyan side Al-Ittihad, but could not play due to security problems there, returning to Zamalek but without finding the same success.

Kofi, on the other hand, left Petrojet to Dahok of Iraq, only to come back to Zamalek, and unlike Cisse, put on good performances and helped the team in their long-awaited return to form.

There are many players who walked the same path; names like Chirno Mansari, Salaheddin Said, and Uso Konan, but the latest is John Antwi, who came to Egypt in 2013 to join Ismaili. He spent two years with the yellow shirts, becoming the top scorer in the Egyptian league before leaving in January of this year to Saudi Arabia's Al-Shabab. Just six months later, Antwi would be back in Cairo to sign with Ahly.

Antwi's debut with Ahly went super as he scored a super-hat trick in the round of 16 game of the Egyptian cup against Al-Gouna. He scored again, last Saturday against Al-Taraji of Tunisia in the group stage of the CAF Confederations Cup. Although he picked up an injury that will keep him off the pitch for three to four weeks, it seems Antwi is so far bucking the trend of the returning African who does not play as well as the first time around.

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