Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Back in business

After much talk and negotiations the Egyptian Premier League returns, reports Marawan Zayed

Al-Ahram Weekly

Against all odds, the Egyptian national league managed to kick off with only a few days to go for the New Year. The opening match of the 2013-2014 season between Petrojet and Tala’a Al-Geish was held on Christmas Eve. A 1-1 draw left both teams happy and content.
The remaining matches of week one saw several draws including Enppi and the Arab Contractors 1-1, Dakhleya and Ghazl Mehala 2-2, Raja Marsa Matroh vs Ittihad 1-1, all in Group one, and Petrojet and Geish 1-1 from Group 2.
Defending champions Ahli successfully opened their campaign with a 2-0 victory over Military Production while Makasa beat Gouna 1-0 in group one.
In group two, three matches ended with the same 2-1 result -- Menya upsetting giants Haras Al-Hedoud, Ittihad Al-Shorta beating Wadi Degla while Ismaili defeated their cousins Qanah. Zamalek on
the other hand beat Masri 2-0 in a game that saw the club of Port Said making its first appearance after the tragedy in February 2012 that witnessed the massacre of 72 spectators in a soccer riot.
The disaster cancelled the league that season. The league was forced into another cancellation in July this year when Mohamed Morsi was deposed as president, leading to violence on the streets.
So explains why this league season began in December instead of the usual August.
So far, and according to the agreement between security officials and the Egyptian Football Association, all matches are being held behind closed doors until further notice for security reasons. Still, everyone within the football family seems not to be bothered as long as the wheel has started rolling again.
The Egyptian Football Association, EFA had decided to increase the number of the competing teams this season to 22 to be divided into two groups of 11 teams each. According to EFA media officer Azmi Megahed, five teams will drop to the second division by the end of the season whereas the top two teams from the second division will qualify to the Premier League in the following season 2014-2015 which will have 20 teams. According to the EFA website, the same scenario will be repeated in the second season where five teams will be relegated and two teams will join the premier league.
“So, by the third season 2015-2016, the league competition will return back to 18 teams. The EFA board has also decided that the newly-formed Clubs Committee headed now by Kamal Darwish will be fully responsible in selecting the format of the competition,” Megahed said.
Many people don’t realise how the absence of the domestic competition affected various sectors in the country and not just the players and their clubs.
Starting with the clubs, most of them were unable to pay the salaries of their players due to the lack of cash they received from commercial rights and match tickets. And it was not just the smaller clubs affected as even Egyptian titans such as Zamalek and Ismaili were unable to find financial solutions in the past two years to the extent that they started to seek help from everywhere including the government in the case of Ismaili.
The Egyptian FA tried to aid some of these clubs but there was no way they could help every single club. The list of cash-stripped clubs in Egypt include maybe every club in the country except for the petrol clubs Enppi and Petrojet in addition to Ahli whose success in Africa meant money was available. But still the club was not as wealthy as it once was.
The problem grew with time and some of the big players started to talk about leaving their clubs as they weren’t getting paid. Shikabala who is one of the best players in the country left Zamalek due to the same problem, though rumours claim there are negotiations for the return of the player to Zamalek.
Clubs weren’t the biggest losers in the past two years; it was the Egyptian national team. It suffered a humiliating 7-3 aggregate defeat at the hands of Ghana and many football experts and fans will agree that the absence of the domestic league was of the main reasons if not the biggest reason for the failure to qualify for the World Cup yet again after coming so close. The players were not used to playing games week in week out and most of them were short of match fitness except for those who play in foreign leagues such as Mohamed Salah and Al-Nenni. The national team’s coach Bob Bradley always voiced his concerns about the issue and reiterated that friendly games with the national team were not enough. However, there were no doable solutions and inevitably reality struck the players when they lost 6-1 in the first leg in Ghana; a result that theoretically ended their World Cup dream. Bradley was forced to leave after the debacle.
Leaving the football perspective and moving to the business side, many people and sectors suffered from the league’s absence especially sponsors of the league and the clubs. The sponsors pay huge amounts of money for the Egyptian federation and the clubs to present their brands to football fans and whoever watches the games. Moreover, and more importantly people working for these agencies suffered big time financially as most of them had their salaries and commissions cut due to lack of money. “Now as the league returned with the first week already played, the circle of money is starting to move again.
“Hopefully, it would lead to everyone benefiting from it starting with the clubs and players all the way tp the sports agencies, sponsors and TV stations,” says Hisham Zayed, director of the Sports Marketing Department at the Pyramids Advertising Agency.
“Meanwhile, and as the second week of the league kicked off Sunday, whoever is involved in the football business is still concerned with the league’s progress,” Zayed said. “They probably think it will be suspended or cancelled again as in the past three seasons. Let’s all hope this season will see itself out without any problems.”

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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