Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1194, (24-30 April 2014)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1194, (24-30 April 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Arabs emerging

Two European giants became promising destinations for Arab players, while other leading clubs were woefully their victims. Ahmed Hamdi sheds light on the trajectory of Arab stars in Europe

Al-Ahram Weekly

Despite the qualification of a single Arab country, Algeria, to the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, Arab players were decidedly more successful than their countries. Players from Egypt, Morocco, and the qualified country, Algeria, have made their presence felt this season in the major European leagues and the Champions League.

Two Arab stars made it to two renowned clubs in world and European football in a season that could be considered a breakthrough for Arab football. Mohamed Salah, Egypt’s international, made it to London’s top club at present, Chelsea. Salah switched gears in January after only one season and a half with Swiss champions Basel.

The move was made after Salah scored twice against Chelsea in the Champions League, leading Basel to beat them home and away. Having felt his sting, Chelsea decided to add Salah to their arsenal. Arsenal was also the name of the first team to be stung by Salah in the Premier League. Salah scored and provided an assist against Stoke City, which kept Chelsea in pursuit of the league title. Despite starting his time with Chelsea on the bench, Salah is gradually making it to the starting squad and is expected to be one of the team’s main players next season.

As the Premier League welcomed an Arab star in the form of Salah, it said goodbye to another, as Moroccan player, Adel Taarabt, packed his bags and headed to Italy. Taarabt, who is still owned by Queen’s Park Rangers, was loaned to Italian giant AC Milan. Despite Milan’s current bad standing and low position in the Serie A, it remains one of the biggest teams in European football history. The 24-year-old was among the names Milan counted on to save the team during the first round of the season. Taarabt did not disappoint, showing amazing skills on the ball, backed up with speed and powerful shots. 

The man who loves to dribble needed only seven minutes in his debut match with Milan to score. Despite losing the match, Taarabt had good impact in later matches as the team gradually inched closer to claiming what once seemed unreachable — a Europa League qualifying position. The Moroccan has become one of the stars of the Italian giant in less than half a season and is set to make the move permanent next summer.  

In contrast to Salah and Taarabt striving either to keep their teams on top or to put them back there, other Arab players tussled to bring the big teams down. Before Salah joined Chelsea, a Moroccan Stoke City player outran Chelsea in their first leg in this year’s Premier League. Needing every single point at the end of the season in their fight for the league title, it is unlikely that the London side will forget that Oussama Assaidi had single-handedly cost them three precious points. The blue giant fell victim to a superb goal from the Moroccan, making Salah’s goal and assist in the second leg just payback with the same flavour, albeit an Arab one.

Speaking of Arabs thrashing giants, Assaidi was among a few others who did so in Europe this season. In Catalonia, two Arab players cost Barcelona six points in a very heated La Liga. Barcelona have settled now in third position behind both Madrid teams, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid consecutively, because of Algerian stars Sofiane Feghouli and Yacine Brahimi.

Feghouli is a current Valencia player who is spending his fourth year at the club. The Algerian contributed well to breaking a 10-year winning streak for Barcelona against his team on Camp Nou ground.  Feghouli assisted two out of three goals; “The Bats” scored to secure the three points. The 24-year-old also led Barcelona’s left-back, Jordi Alba, to a red card.

Another 24-year-old Algerian was behind Barcelona’s most recent loss against Granada. After Barcelona’s disappointing Champions League knockout against Atletico Madrid, everyone thought Granada would be on the receiving end of a giant wake-up for the Catalans. However, the match turned out to be another knockout blow to Barcelona, shaking the ground beneath them in their La Liga mission, thanks to Brahimi’s goal. The Algerian goal took Barcelona down from second to third position in the La Liga table with four points away from first position.  

Either propping them up or hammering them, giants of world football like Chelsea, Arsenal, Milan and Barcelona have certainly felt the Arab impact on European football this season. The question remains whether this Arab breakthrough will be sustained in upcoming seasons.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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