Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Stars of yesteryear

European teams could be interested in our young footballers after Egypt’s impressive U-20 African performance.
Ahmed Hamdi previews the history of those who made it big in Europe

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Egyptian coaching legend, Mahmoud Al-Gohari, established the professional system in Egyptian football in 1990 after the last participation for the national team in the World Cup. The system guaranteed the transformation of the Egyptian players, who were officially considered amateurs, into professional footballers who can transfer from one club to another within Egypt or outside with professional contracts. Al-Gohari had a dream: to see Egyptian players conquering the European kicking fields and so he encouraged the young players at that time to give it a shot in the European continent.
It has been nearly a quarter of a century since that time. The dream of Al-Gohari is yet to come fully true but a few young players did make it in Europe. A few were very successful while many failed to leave a mark. Here, we highlight the journey of the players who made it to Europe at a tender age which we define as 23 or less.
Speaking of Al-Gohari, several big-name players would have to pop into mind for being one of his protégés. One of these names is Hani Ramzi, former national team captain. The defender impressed Al-Gohari at a very young age which made the veteran coach include him in the team going to the 1990 World Cup. After the World Cup, it wasn’t only Al-Gohari who was impressed. Swiss club Neuchâtel Xamax was on the spot to pick up the 21-year-old talent. Nicknamed “The Rock” in Switzerland for his strong performances, it didn’t take longer than four years for Ramzi to be the first Egyptian to ever set foot in the German Bundesliga.
In 1994, Ramzi joined Werder Bremen for a transfer fee of $1.5 million transfer, becoming the most expensive Egyptian player. In the four years since, the Egyptian defender wore the green shirt 98 times, scoring three goals. After the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations which Ramzi helped Egypt win, he moved to the German Red Devils, FC Kaiserslautern. Ramzi played 130 for FC Kaiserslautern in a seven-year period scoring 12 goals for the reds and becoming one of the biggest stars of the German side. After a knee injury, Ramzi was left watching from the sidelines in his last two years in his contract with FC Kaiserslautern. In 2005, Ramzi signed a contract with second Bundesliga team, FC Saarbrücken. Eighteen months was all he spent there, appearing in just four matches.  Ramzi retired at the age of 37, leaving behind one of the most if not the most successful journey for professional Egyptian players in Europe.
Hazem Emam, Abdel-Sattar Sabri, and Ahmed Hassan also had their share of fame playing on European pitches. Although he was not introduced by Al-Gohari, Emam was one of the talents that sparkled in his era. Emam who was awarded for being the best playmaker in Africa in 1996 captured the attention of the white and black Udinese of the Italian Serie A. At 22 years of age, Emam was the first Egyptian to play in Italy. In his first season Emam played only four matches as his coach insisted on playing him in the striker’s position which had at that time Márcio Amoroso and the German star Oliver Bierhoff.
The problem continued during the second season for Emam who decided to sign a loan contract for Dutch team De Graafschap. In The Netherlands, Emam became a starter and a star for his team. He wore the De Graafschap shirt for 38 matches and scored four goals in two seasons with the Dutch team. For his impressive performances, he captured the attention of the Dutch giant AFC Ajax. As the former European champions tried to negotiate a possible transfer for the Egyptian star to their team, Udinese decided to bring him back to Italy. It was back to Italy and back to the bench as well for Emam who finally decided to return to Egypt to wear the white shirt of his original Zamalek in 2001.
Sabri on the other hand, started his journey in Austria in Tirol Innsbruck in 1997 at the age of 23, coming from the Arab Contractors. Two years in Tirol with 28 appearances and two goals prepared the talented player for a move to PAOK in Greece. A transitional year he spent there, making 11 appearances with the Greek team and scoring four goals. The playmaker moved after to Portuguese top team Benfica. Making 37 appearances with the red shirt and scoring eight goals, Sabri’s career highlight was when he scored a brilliant free kick in the net of the goalkeeping legend Peter Schmeichel.
 In Benfica, Sabri was coached by today’s coaching legend “the special one” José Mourinho.  The Egyptian spent only one year in the red castle, then moved to Marítimo in Portugal. There he played 15 matches and scored a single goal. Staying in Portugal, Sabri moved this time to Estrela Amadora representing them in 21 matches and scoring twice. A year after, he once again moved but this time ended his European journey as he came back to play for Al-Gaish in Egypt.  
Hassan is the most capped international male footballer in history with 184 appearances for Egypt. after his impressive performance at the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations which Egypt won, he moved from Ismaili to Turkish club Kocaelispor. Spending two good years there he then moved to Denizlispor. After one good year with his new club, Hassan moved again this time to Gençlerbirliği. It took the Egyptian midfielder two impressive seasons to move one step up and join one of the top clubs in Turkey, Beşiktaş, in 2003. Wearing the white and black, Hassan played 79 matches in three years and scored 30 goals. He became one of Beşiktaş fans’ favourite players of all time.
 After his successful years at Beşiktaş, Hassan was ready to take another step forward moving to a bigger European team in Belgian side Anderlecht. There he was one of the top stars of the team making 56 appearances and scoring 20 goals. He helped his team to win the Belgian League, Cup, and Supercup.  In 2008, Hassan decided to end his long and successful European journey due to family matters. He left behind in Turkey and Anderlecht a career for young players to look up to. One incident that shows how much of an impact Hassan had, this reporter won a discount in a Beşiktaş store in Turkey when the owner discovered he was from the same country as Ahmed Hassan.
Another player who moved out at a young age and had a successful career in Europe is Mohamed Zidan. The striker moved to Denmark at the age of 19. He joined Akademisk Boldklub (AB) in 1999. He represented the Danish team in 56 matches and scored 12 goals. Due to financial problems at his club, Zidan moved to rivals Midtjylland. During his first season there, Zidan became the league’s top scorer and was awarded the “Rookie of the Year” award. The following season he was awarded “Player of the Year”. With Midtjylland, Zidan scored 30 goals in 47 matches. While in Denmark, Zidan was highly praised by the famed Danish goalkeeper Schmeichel. In 2005, the striker moved to German club Werder Bremen. Not making much impact there he was loaned to Mainz.
In Mainz, Zidan became a fan favourite and the star of the team. He moved permanently to Mainz during the 2006-2007 season scoring 13 goals in 17 matches. His amazing performances made a bigger German club Hamburger SV sign him the next season. He spent only a year there before moving to Borussia Dortmund. In Dortmund, Zidan became one of the team’s stars and gave in some good performances. He spent four years at the club becoming the first Egyptian to ever win the Bundesliga with his team. The Egyptian striker left Dortmund in 2012 moving once again back to Mainz. After just a few months there, Zidan decided to end his European journey moving to the United Arab Emirates to play for Baniyas. Zidan was released in January and is now a free agent. Having his ups and downs, Zidan is still one of the most successful Egyptian players to ever play in Europe.
Currently, Egypt has several young players representing the country in European pitches. In Switzerland, Mohamed Salah and Al-Nenni are playing for top team Basel. In Italy, Ahmed Hegazi is recovering from an injury at his famous club the “Viola”, ACF Fiorentina.
The question now remains: will they be joined soon by any of our U-20 promising stars after the Egyptian U-20 national team advanced to the World Cup next year and the knockout stages of the Africa Cup of Nations?
One story not mentioned here is that of Mido, arguably the most successful Egyptian professional player ever. His journey was covered separately by Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline ‘Swan song nears’. You can read it on our website: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg

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