LONDON: Ahmed Hegazi provided good news for fans in Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week after signing a permanent deal with Al-Ittihad and also agreeing to join up with his country’s team at the Olympics in July.
The initial benefactor is Egypt. Coach of the U-23 team Shawky Gharieb has been facing up to the prospect of heading to Japan without star forward Mohamed Salah, but now has at least some consolation as he will be able to take the in-form defender Hegazi to Tokyo, where the team will face Spain, Argentina and Australia starting on July 22.
The tournament is reserved for players 24 and under — with the age limit rising by one year due to the Olympics being delayed because of the pandemic — but each country is allowed to call three “overage” stars.
Whether Salah’s release would be sanctioned by Liverpool has been a major discussion in Egyptian football ever since the team qualified last November by defeating Ivory Coast in the final of Africa’s U-23 Championships. The six-time European champions are reluctant to release the forward, especially as he is also due to participate in the African Nations Cup for the senior side in January and February along with Sadio Mane and Naby Keita.
“I do not want to say that it is impossible for Salah to participate in the Olympics, but it is difficult,” Egyptian FA President Ahmed Megahed said on Tuesday. “Salah agreed to lead the Olympic team during the last camp of the Egyptian team.”
“We contacted Liverpool to allow Salah to join the Olympic team,” the president continued. “They said they were waiting for the approval of the technical staff, but in the end, Liverpool refused the request because they do not want to lose the player at the beginning of the season, as well as next January with the Africa Cup of Nations, which will keep him from participating in the English Premier League matches.”
It has been widely reported that the player is keen to go to Japan to take part in the Olympics and is trying to persuade the club to let him go. All should be finalized by the end of the week.
“We spoke with Salah again, and he told us that he will make a new attempt with the technical staff of his team, to resolve the matter, and within the next two days he will find a way,” added Megahed, though reports in England suggest that Salah has an impossible task.
It is not just Salah who is set to miss the plane to Tokyo, with Turkish team Galatasaray also set to refuse a call-up for Mostafa Mohamed. The Istanbul giants want the 23-year-old forward for their UEFA Champions League playoff against PSV Eindhoven in July.
“Mustafa Mohamed wants to play in the Olympics, but he is certainly not the decision-maker,” Mostafa’s agent Ahmed Yehia said.
“If his club agrees, he will play with the Egyptian national team, but he will not enter into a conflict with his club in order to participate. The last information I have is that Mostafa Mohamed will not participate in the Olympics,” he said, adding that there was still a little hope for Egypt as officials at the club have changed and there is a chance a new decision could follow.
If Salah and Mohamed are, as expected, officially ruled out of the games, it remains to be seen who Gahrieb plumps for as his other two overage players. He released a shortlist of eight, which contains goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawy and midfielder Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal.
While Al-Ittihad are likely to miss Hegazi for the opening couple of weeks of the next league season, fans will be delighted that the 30 year-old is going to stay for two more years. His arrival in Jeddah from the now-relegated English Premier League club West Bromwich Albion in October sparked a turnaround in the Tigers’ fortunes and, inspired by the defender, the team that was in a relegation battle started to climb the table and finished in an impressive third place. It was his goal in the penultimate match of the season that clinched a place in the 2022 AFC Champions League.
For many observers, Hegazi, who played 28 games and scored three goals in all competitions, was the most impressive performer in the league over the season as a whole.
There has been more good news for fans as Brazilian coach Fabio Carille has signed a one-year extension to his contract and will be in charge of the club next season.
Saudi Arabia will also be in Tokyo and take on Brazil, Ivory Coast and Germany with Al-Hilal trio Salman Al-Faraj, Salem Al-Dawsari and Yasser Al-Shahrani going to Japan as the overage players.