Why is Egypt’s football coach worrying about who captains a sinking ship?

Mohamed Salah is a two-time top scorer in the English Premier League and a Champions League winner. (AFP)
Updated 29 October 2019

Why is Egypt’s football coach worrying about who captains a sinking ship?

  • El-Badry favors having his best player, not his oldest, as the team’s captain

CAIRO: Most football players and fans attach little importance to who their team’s captain is. What concerns them most are results.

So, it is odd that talk about who should skipper Egypt’s national football team has turned into an all-out row.

Rookie head coach, Hossam El-Badry, reportedly wants superstar Mohamed Salah to wear the armband even though the oldest player is right back Ahmed Fathy, who reportedly has refused to hand over the captaincy.

Fathy was named Egypt’s captain by El-Badry for their friendly against Botswana earlier this month, however, Salah, who was rested, will supposedly reclaim the captaincy when he returns to the squad.

“I want to give the badge to a player who can lead the team — not only for the older player in the squad,” El-Badry was quoted as saying. “I’ll ask players for their opinions about who deserves to be the captain because we need a star.”

If a star is what is required, Fathy certainly fits the description. He has made 131 appearances for his country since 2002 and plays for Al-Ahly, one of Egypt’s top clubs. He has also had stints with English sides Sheffield United and Hull City.

Of course, Liverpool’s Salah is no stranger to stardom. One of the world’s best players, he is a two-time top scorer in the English Premier League and wears a Champions League ring. He has 41 international goals in 67 appearances, the best record among his teammates.

El-Badry appears to be implying that Egypt’s captain need not be the oldest player on the team. That flies in the face of tradition in the Arab world where the captain is automatically the most senior player, not necessarily a star or the squad’s best performer.

El-Badry might cite the case of Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt who became the youngest captain in a European Champions League knockout game when he wore Ajax’s skipper armband at 19 in a game against Real Madrid in February this year.

It would appear that El-Badry favors having his best player, not his oldest, as the team’s captain.

Young or old, good or great, and regardless of whether they boast leadership qualities, it is not usually of concern among Egyptian and other Arab teams who is captain. They are given the routine tasks of leading their team out of the dressing room at the start of a match, participating in the coin toss prior to the kickoff to choose which half of the field to play in, and are the first player to hoist the trophy won by the team.

They break up squabbles between sides, act as their team’s representative when debating against a call, and sometimes referees talk to the captain about settling rowdy teammates.

The more experienced captains rally their team if morale is low. They are the on-pitch leaders and are looked upon to boost team spirits. They also act as a calming influence over younger players. They often have good leadership qualities and can even influence a game.

Unlike in some European countries, Arab captains never join the manager in deciding the starting 11 for matches. That decision lies solely with the coach. In that respect, football captains in this part of the world are largely symbolic.  

As such, it would appear that El-Badry is attaching too much importance to the issue and should focus more on guiding a team which has been going south.

BACKGROUND

El-Badry might cite the case of Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt who became the youngest captain in a European Champions League knockout game when he wore Ajax’s skipper armband at 19 in a game against Real Madrid in February this year.

Egypt did poorly in last year’s World Cup in Russia, failing to win a single point and finishing 31 out of 32 teams. In this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations, hosted by Egypt, the national side again fell short, stopped dead in its tracks in the relatively early round of 16.

Instead of paying so much attention to who should be captain, El-Badry should be more concerned about how to get the team back to winning ways. There is no point in worrying about who is the captain of a sinking ship.

Being the gentleman that he is on and off the pitch, it is highly unlikely that Salah would take over the captaincy in the face of Fathy’s protests. That should quiet things down because it appears El-Badry is seeking to stamp his authority on the team early, even if it means creating a controversy that was wholly unnecessary.

It is believed the decision to make Salah captain is the Football Association of Egypt’s way of making amends with Salah after The Best FIFA Football Awards voting debacle when administration errors rendered their pick of Salah void.

But righting a wrong by creating a hullabaloo that came out of nowhere is not the way to assuage Salah’s feelings.

Fathy is 34. Sooner or later, Salah, who is only 27, will wear the captain’s armband. The problem is, that coronation might come sooner than expected. Salah is due to return to international duty next month for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Kenya and away to Comoros.


Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

Updated 10 December 2019

Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

  • Injury-hit Reds have consistently leaked goals despite streaking clear at the top of Premier League

LONDON: Liverpool travel to Salzburg on Tuesday needing to avoid defeat to the confident Austrian champions to guard against an embarrassing Champions League group stage exit for the holders.

Jurgen Klopp's men are used to getting through to the knockout stages the hard way. In each of the past two seasons they have needed home wins to secure a place in the last 16 before going on to make the final.

However, the specter of a free-scoring Salzburg, led by the Champions League's top scorer in Erlin Braut Haaland spells trouble for an injury-hit Liverpool backline that has consistently leaked goals this season despite streaking clear at the top of the Premier League.

The Reds' recorded a first clean sheet in 14 games in Saturday's 3-0 win at Bournemouth, but lost another center back as Dejan Lovren limped off in the first half.

Should the Croatian miss the trip to Austria, Joe Gomez will be Klopp's only fit partner for Virgil van Dijk in central defense.

Van Dijk narrowly missed out to Lionel Messi in the battle for the Ballon d'Or last week in recognition of the transformative effect he has had on Liverpool's fortunes over the past two years.

But even the towering Dutchman has been incapable of stopping the steady flow of goals against in recent months.

Injuries have meant there has been a constant rotation of Lovren, Gomez and Joel Matip alongside Van Dijk, while the attacking impetus offered by fullbacks Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold leaves space in behind to be exploited.

Goalkeeper Alisson Becker also missed the first two months of the season due to a calf injury to further unsettle the backline.

The Brazilian is now back, but another injury to Fabinho has robbed the back four of the best player to protect them in the holding midfield role.

"I forgot how it feels, to be honest," said Klopp on finally ending the long wait for a clean sheet at the weekend.

"It's great, we should have them more often. It was the most-used word in the dressing room by the boys — "clean sheet, clean sheet, clean sheet."

"Obviously everybody was desperate for that, now we have it so let's have it more often.

"The next game where a clean sheet would be useful is already around the corner, against Salzburg on Tuesday."

That is easier said than done as Liverpool know from their first meeting with Jesse Marsch's men in October.

The hosts seemed to be cruising to another Anfield win in the Champions League as they raced into a 3-0 lead, but Salzburg hit back to level at 3-3 before Mohamed Salah's winner ensured Liverpool edged a seven-goal thriller.

Salzburg have scored 87 goals in 24 games in all competitions this season, 28 of which have come from Norwegian wonderkid Haaland in just 21 appearances.

The 19-year-old started on the bench when the sides met at Anfield due to injury, but came on to inspire the visitors' revival in the second half and scored one of his eight Champions League goals.

"He's not the only threat from Salzburg but he's a proper one," said Klopp of the danger posed by Haaland ahead of the sides' first clash.

Salzburg need to win to make the last 16 on their first appearance in the group stage in 25 years.

A point would be enough for Liverpool to progress, but they need to win to secure top spot in Group E ahead of Napoli.

Given Liverpool's paucity of clean sheets and Salzburg's thirst for goals, attack would appear to be the best form of defencse for the European champions.