LONDON: If Javier Aguirre completes his four-year contract presiding over Egypt, his scouts will travel several familiar, well-trodden paths to assess hopefuls for the Pharaohs squad.
Judging by his first two squad selections, the Mexican is eager to harness those who ply their trade outside the Egyptian Premier League. That means scouting trips to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Greece, the MLS and, of course, the Premier League, to see some of the country’s most notable figures in the flesh.
But could Dublin soon be added to that list? The League of Ireland Premier Division seems an unlikely site for players boasting the potential to improve Egypt’s options. Ireland’s leading clubs have been beset by financial troubles for years, while their brightest prospects are continually hoovered up by richer cousins in England. It is not exactly on Cairo’s doorstep either.
Yet striker Yousef Mahdy — nicknamed Yoyo — will grace the Premier Division in 2019 after his 12 goals have just steered the University of Dublin FC to the Irish First Division title and promotion as a consequence. What’s more, he is Egyptian and fiercely proud of it.
Mahdy was born in Saudi Arabia to Egyptian parents, before moving to Ireland aged just two. He has spent his life living between Dublin and Shamrock, but travels to the family home in Alexandria each summer.
“If someone asks me where I’m from, I always say Egypt. I can speak Arabic, and speak it at home. I don’t feel out of place whenever I visit Egypt,” said Mahdy.
There is no conflict of interests with Mahdy’s dual nationality. He simply sees himself as belonging to the two countries that have shaped him. The 20-year-old boasts three under-age caps for Ireland, yet he also trained with the Egypt under-18s squad two years ago. Current Egypt Under-23 pair, Al-Ahly’s Ahmed Hamdi and Zamalek’s Ahmed Fatouh, were among those he rubbed shoulders with.
If ever the day does come when he is considered for a senior international call-up by either country, he would simply snatch the offer of whoever comes first.
He said: “I would be happy to play for either Egypt or Ireland. I would happily represent Egypt because of my background, it would be something my parents and family would be very proud of.”
Mahdy has a long journey ahead if he is to fulfil those ambitions though. He still has two years remaining of a commerce degree at the University of Dublin, with the semi-professional football team entirely composed of students at the institution.
The likelihood is that the team will turn fully professional ahead of the Premier League division campaign, with players squeezing their studies into the remainder of their limited time.
The combination of work and play is one that Mahdy enjoys, so for the minute the pacy frontman is not thinking further ahead to whether he will ultimately prolong his professional career beyond his stint in Dublin.
“If football is still there, then I will be happy to move abroad or carry on playing in Ireland. I don’t have a set goal, my degree is really important to me though,” he said.
Boasting a team of all-students has its advantages. The camaraderie and common purpose of the team saw them buck pre-season predictions of a mid-table finish and seal the title by a three-point margin. They were well ahead of former Irish big-hitters Shelbourne and Roy Keane’s boyhood club Cobh Ramblers.
“We set out at the start of the season to win the league and to be honest, a lot
of us thought we would be overachieving to do that. But as the season went on, we were top of the league from week three on. We were comfortably beating teams,” said Mahdy. “The key to our success has been that we are all the same age group. We’re all really good friends — constantly hanging out together; some of us even live together. We have a bond that is hard to explain.
“It’s definitely going to be tough in the Premier Division, no doubt about it. But we played against (Premier Division) Waterford in the Cup and beat them convincingly. If we can keep up performances, then we should be able to stay up or even finish mid-table.”
Mahdy needs no prompting about the incentives to keep his budding career on an upward trajectory though. He boasts a diehard fan’s enthusiasm at witnessing Mohamed Salah and co end years of disappointment and take Egypt back to the top table of African football.
The prospect of one day playing alongside the Liverpool forward on the international stage is understandably an ambition that looms large for every young Egyptian.
Mahdy added: “Salah is a role model and a lot of people in Egypt look up to him, not even because of the football. He carries himself really well as a humble person, as well as obviously being a great player. Past players that Egypt have looked toward did not really fit the bill, but he is going from strength to strength.
“I think the real breakthrough for Egypt was in last year’s African Cup of Nations because we had gone from such success to not even qualifying after the revolution. When we qualified, no one expected them to get out of the group, but we got to the final and I think then, you sensed that Egypt were getting back to where they needed to be.
“World Cup qualification was something that never happens. But it was something that brought the whole country together and everyone was so excited.”
Mahdy will not get carried away with himself though. He is too grounded and evidently too intelligent for that. But maybe, just maybe, Salah’s future strike partner could come from unlikely origins.