The Egyptian football players who paved the way for Mo Salah

Mohammad Salah. (AFP file)
Updated 19 June 2018
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The Egyptian football players who paved the way for Mo Salah

  • Long before the Liverpool star arrived in the UK, a handful of Egyptian players made the same journey
  • Mohammed Salah has the fame and, with a reported salary of £200,000 (SR1 million) per week, he certainly has the fortune.

LONDON: The World Cup is underway, and the hopes of football-mad Arab nations are rising. Many eyes are on Mohamed Salah, star of the Egyptian team and of the English Premier League, to elevate the reputation of Arab footballers. 

At Liverpool, the 25-year-old is adored. But he is not the first Egyptian that British football fans have taken to their hearts.

Long, long before Mo, there was Mustafa Mansour and Mohamed Latif in the 1930s and before them, there was Hussein Hegazi and Tewfik Abdullah. All were Egyptians footballers who brought their dazzling skills to British clubs.

One was a striker who had poems written about him; one graced the cover of the top football magazine of the time; one was a goalkeeper regarded as a trailblazer for African football who later served as a government minister, and one played for Glasgow Rangers and went on to become his country’s top football commentator. 

 

Hussein Hegazi

Hegazi was the first. Born into a wealthy aristocratic Cairo family in 1891, he honed his footballing skills by playing against British soldiers and by the time he arrived in England in 1911 to study engineering at University College, London, he was already known in Egypt as a prolific goal scorer, notching up 57 in one season. He was also a top-class runner, winning the national championships in the quarter-mile and half-mile (equivalent to today’s 400 meters and 800 meters) four years in a row. 

How he came to the attention of Dulwich Hamlet FC, a well-established non-league club in South London is unclear but he made his debut with them on Sept. 23, 1911, to great acclaim. With his wiry build (he weighed only 60 kg), he was described as having “a lightning drive.” 

A match report in the local newspaper, the “South London Press,” said: “The Egyptian gave a splendid exhibition… simply conjured with the ball.” Another report from Oct. 13 called him “the thinking man’s footballer.”

The fans loved him as much as the pundits and promptly nicknamed him Nebuchadnezzar. 

It was not long before a much bigger club noticed him. Fulham, then in the Second Division (today’s Championship), were eager to sign him up, especially after Hegazi scored in his try-out for them against Stockport County on Nov. 11.  

Alarmed at the prospect of losing him, Dulwich Hamlet manager Pa Wilson turned up at Hegazi’s lodgings. After listening to Wilson’s pleadings, Hegazi felt honor-bound to stay at Dulwich.

“I was in a difficulty for I wanted to play very much in league football and at the same time I did not want to leave Dulwich Hamlet, who have been very good to me,” he said. Wilson called Hegazi “as honorable a man as ever stepped on to a football field” and a writer for the “Athletic News” was moved to write a five-verse poem in tribute.

Hegazi did two European tours with Dulwich Hamlet and also played for the London county team. In 1913, he embarked on studies at Cambridge University but left before the end of his first year, though not before winning a Blue with the university football team. He played for the national Egyptian team in the 1920 and 1924 Olympics and finally hung up his boots in 1932, aged 40. He died in 1958. A street in the Garden City area of Cairo is named after him.

 

Tewfik Abdullah

Tewfik Abdullah (sometimes spelled Tawfik Abdallah), the second Egyptian to play in Britain, was encouraged by his friendship with Tommy Barbour, a Scottish soldier in the British army serving in Egypt who also played fullback for Derby County.

Born in Cairo in June 1896, Abdullah, a midfielder, began his career with Cairo club, El-Mokhtalat, and played for the national team at the 1920 Olympics. He also played against the British army, where he met Barbour.

Abdullah made his English league debut in October 1920 against Manchester City and was instantly nicknamed “Toothpick.” 

One possibly apocryphal tale about his first game relates that he came out on to the pitch asking, “Where’s me camel?” It transpired he was, in fact, asking, “Where’s Mick Hamill?” the City player he had been assigned to mark. 

Abdullah scored in the match, which Derby won 3-0. The following month, he was on the cover of the magazine “Topical Times,” with the pyramids and the Sphinx in the background, as part of a feature on the fashion for recruiting players “from far afield.”

In 15 appearances for Derby County, Abdullah never scored again and in 1922 he joined Scottish Second Division side, Cowdenbeath, where he was nicknamed “Abe” and was awarded the ultimate accolade when a local leading miner named one of his racing greyhounds Abe in his honor.

Beset by injury, Abdullah only stayed one season in Scotland. In 1923, he joined Welsh non-league Bridgend Town and a year later he was back in the league with Hartlepool, in the northeast of England. He made 11 appearances, scored once and at the end of the 1924 season crossed the Atlantic to join the exotically named Providence Clamdiggers. 

He played for four more teams in the US and went on to coach, but America’s racial segregation laws — which meant he was often not allowed to stay in the same hotels as his white colleagues — dismayed him. He returned to Egypt in the late 1920s for a year but crossed the Atlantic again to join Canadian side Montreal Carsteel, spending the rest of his playing career there. 

After retiring he managed Farouk Club (an old name for Zamalek) and in 1940 became manager of the Egyptian national team, taking them to the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.

More than a decade passed before an Egyptian again donned football boots for a British side — and then came a pair of them. 

Goalkeeper Mustafa Kamel Mansour and winger Mohammad Latif were in Egypt’s 1934 World Cup squad, which was coached by Scotsman James McCrea. 

 

Mustafa Kamel Mansour

Mansour, born in Alexandria in August 1914, began his club career with Al-Ahly. Latif, five years older, played for El-Mokhtalat, (another of Zamalek’s past names). Encouraged by their mentor, McCrae, they arrived in Scotland in 1935 and enrolled at Jordanhill College to train as physical education teachers.

The Glasgow Rangers wanted them both but Mansour instead chose to join Queen’s Park, Scotland’s oldest club and also the only amateur team in the Scottish professional league. He even turned down the huge sum of £5,000 — equivalent to around £340,000 ($455,000 or SR1.7million) today — to turn professional.

“It was a record at the time but I did not want to play for money,” said Mansour in a BBC interview in 2002. How times have changed. 

He spent two seasons at Queen’s Park, where he was affectionately known as Tuffy, and played in almost 50 league matches and eight Cup ties. He was also a popular adult member of the 72nd Glasgow Scout Troop. 

Mansour returned to Egypt when war broke out in 1939, but his footballing career was far from over. After his playing days ended, he qualified as an international referee and then managed his old club, Al-Ahly. He was a top-ranking figure in Egyptian football and from 1958-61 he was secretary-general of the Confederation of African Football. He also served as a minister in the Egyptian government.

He died in 2002, a few weeks after the interview with the BBC and a month before his 88th birthday.

 

Mohammad Latif

Five years older than his compatriot, Mohammad Latif was from Beni Suef, south of Cairo, and by his early 20s, he was one of the best footballers in the country. His three goals against a British mandate football team during qualification rounds secured both Egypt’s place in the 1934 World Cup and Latif’s place in the squad. 

The first non-white to play for Glasgow Rangers made his first team debut on Sept. 14, 1935, the same day that Hitler addressed 54,000 people at a mass rally in Nuremberg, announcing laws against non-whites.

Unfortunately, Latif’s Rangers career did not progress well. His playing was described as “impetuous” and after that first outing, he was left out of the first team for seven months. His next game was also his last and he returned to Egypt to prepare for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He and Mansour both made the squad.

Latif rejoined El-Mokhtalat and continued playing for them until 1945. He moved into coaching and also attained international standard as a referee, before embarking on yet another successful career as a football commentator, achieving fame not only in Egypt but throughout the Arab world as “the sheikh of commentators.”

Mohammed Salah may have the fame and, with a reported salary of £200,000 (SR1 million) per week, he certainly has the fortune.

The names of Hegazi, Abdullah, Mansour and Latif may not echo so resoundingly through the annals of footballing history. But they were pathfinders and admirable ambassadors for Arab sportsmen. And that is a hard act to follow.


Saudi Arabia stars told to play abroad in order for the Green Falcons to improve

Updated 19 November 2018
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Saudi Arabia stars told to play abroad in order for the Green Falcons to improve

  • AFC Technical Director Andy Roxburgh backs Saudi side to get out their Asian Cup group.
  • The Scot, however, warns Green Falcon stars they need to spread their wings to ensure longer-term success.

LONDON: AFC Technical Director Andy Roxburgh has backed Saudi Arabia to get out of their group at next year’s Asian Cup, but urged players of both countries to gain international experience in Europe’s top leagues. 
In October the Green Falcons lost 2-0 against a star-studded Brazil side and drew 1-1 with Iraq on home soil as preparations for January’s continental championship in the UAE intensified. They then took that form into their 1-0 win over Yemen last week and face Jordan today.
At the 2015 Asian Cup Saudi Arabia were eliminated in the first round, finishing third in a group with China, Uzbekistan and North Korea. 
But Roxburgh, pictured right, who has been AFC technical director for four years, has backed them to do better this time around, highlighting the stability that Juan Antonio Pizzi’s contract extension after the World Cup will give the Green Falcons. 
“Anything that creates continuity and stability is helpful in football,” Roxburgh told Arab News.
“If you are constantly changing the coach every two minutes it isn’t helpful for anybody. Pizzi’s CV is obviously very good having won with Chile in South America and clearly he has a good background.
“They have only won (two matches in their past 10) and that was against Egypt in Russia. Losing to Brazil, though, is clearly not a big deal. That is pretty par for the course, but from the group they are in with North Korea,  Lebanon and Qatar you would expect them to qualify for the next stage.” 

Andy Roxburgh wants to see the young guns that won Saudi Arabia the U-19 Asian Championship go abroad to further their footballing education. (AFP)


Earlier this month Saudi Arabian football received a boost as their side qualified for next year’s U-20 World Cup in Poland. Goals from Turki Al-Ammar and Khaled Issa Al-Ghannam helped the Young Falcons become the U-19 Asian Champions for a third time as they defeated South Korea 2-1 in the final in Jakarta. Roxburgh praised the performance, but warned against reading too much into results from youth football. 
“They have got some very good attacking players in the team,” said Roxburgh. “I just analyzed all the goals from that tournament, 117 goals. The Saudi boys, from the midfield to the attack — some were obviously good on the ball and they could beat people and finish.
“How many might star in the national team? You will be lucky if it is one. So, although it is very positive in a youth development sense, it can only be viewed in the context of the national team in the long term. It would mean that Saudi Arabia need to continue to do well.
“That is where Japan, over many years, have been doing consistently well at youth level. A lot of players that have been coming out of these teams are now playing for the Japanese national team.”
At senior level Japan, the 2011 Asian champions, have benefitted immensely from the international experience their players have gained abroad. In October the Samurai Blue had 10 foreign-based players in their 23-man squad, while Saudi Arabia had none. To bridge the gap with the Asian elite Saudi Arabia and the West Asian region at large need more players to ply their trade in Europe, according to Roxburgh. 
“Whether you like it or not, the top leagues in Europe have the best players in the world,” said Roxburgh. “They have the resources, the money and the crowds. Players from all over the world, inevitably, congregate there. That experience is invaluable when they come back to their national team. Japan and Australia, and to a lesser extent Iran, benefit from that. In the case of the UAE and in particular Saudi Arabia, when you think about it, they are all home-based. So, this is one of the things: As long as the players in the West Asian teams don’t experience the highest level of club football, then that will always be a problem.” 
Still, Roxburgh believes that the Asian Cup will be a very competitive and open tournament as a 24-team format is introduced for the first time.
“It is wide open,” said Roxburgh. “It is not easy to predict this. The tournament comes so fast after the World Cup. If you take what happened in Europe with the expanded European championship. They thought this would be a problem and it turned out the opposite, because of the success of the small countries like Wales and Iceland.”