Last Sunday, one of the greatest players of the 21st century played his final game on home soil. Who you may ask? No one from Manchester United vs Arsenal is retiring, neither Barcelona. In fact the person in question has never played club football on this continent, and never will. A player whose morals and judgement many of the inflated egos of the Premier League could learn from. The player in question Mohamed Aboutrika, is Al Ahly’s and Egypt’s attacking midfielder, who Gabriele Marcotti describes as the greatest player never to play in Europe or South America. This is now arguably beyond doubt after he inspired Al Ahly to their 8th African Champions League triumph on Sunday, and the sixth he himself has won.
Al Ahly beat the Orlando Pirates 2-0, and 3-1 on aggregate, with Aboutrika unsurprisingly grabbing two goals, on in each leg. Aboutrika will now probably play his last competitive games at the Club World Cup, unless Egypt stage a remarkable turnaround against Ghana in the World Cup play offs. The Club World Cup would be a suitable stage to bow out, where he is the joint record top scorer. Nevertheless Aboutrika will never get the plaudits he deserves as he has never played in Europe.
Not brave enough?
Some would accuse him of not being brave enough to develop his footballing career. For us in England used to the Premier League attracting the best players across the globe it seems alien for someone to choose not to move here. It is doubtless that Aboutrika has the talent to play for the top teams in Europe, he has however instead made the choice to play in his home country, for his home team, and achieve great success. This should not be looked down upon, but instead commended, in a time when players regularly choose money over any other motivation.
Aboutrika plays as a classic number ten. Shimmering in between the lines, he is adept at picking a defence splitting pass or running at players with effortless close control. Nicknamed El Magico, Aboutrika led Egypt to a record three successive African Cup of Nations victories in 2006, 2008 and 2010, however sadly will probably never play at a World Cup. If there is any doubt regarding his quality against the world’s very best, one merely has to see his display against Brazil in the Confederations Cup 2009. Aboutrika set up two goals for Mohamed Zidane, the second with a perfectly weighted through ball after skipping around two Brazilians, and played a massive part in a third.
African player of the year
Despite being nominated for African Player of the Year twice, winning BBC African Player of the Year in 2008 and being voted African based Player of the Year three times, football is only part of what makes Aboutrika great. Earlier this year, Aboutrika said, “every athlete has a humanitarian role in society. He doesn’t live solely for himself, but for others, too.” Footballers would do well to reflect this attitude more often. Aboutrika, who has a degree in philosophy, refused to take a pay rise at his first club Tersana when he found out other players were not offered the same, in the end taking a considerable pay cut. It’s hard to imagine Wayne Rooney doing the same since he threatened to leave Manchester United unless they offered him £250,000 a week.
In the 2008 African Cup of Nations after scoring against Sudan, Aboutrika took off his shirt to show a t-shirt which said, “Sympathise with Gaza”. He was fined for his troubles, however has never been afraid to show his political beliefs, going against the common fallacy that sport and politics should not mix. Debatably Aboutrika’s finest moment came off the football field in the wake of the Port Said disaster, in which 74 people died and thousands more were injured. With the Al Ahly dressing room turned into a hospital, Aboutrika cradled in his arms a dying fourteen year old boy, so that his last image was that of his hero.
May never be recognised
After the disaster Aboutrika threatened to retire. He called for the Egyptian Premier League to be cancelled saying, “this is not football, this is war.” He could be seen attending victims’ funerals, and refused to play in the Super Cup this September, instead choosing to stand with the families of the victims of Port Said who demanded justice. He will now play his final game in the Club World Cup however, he will never get the global recognition his ability warrants. However few would have wished against Aboutrika’s Al Ahly winning on Sunday and giving him the send off his skill on the pitch, and his nobility off it, undoubtedly deserves.
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