A stylish and talented playmaker in his heyday and an elegant-looking man after his retirement, Zamalek's icon Hazem Emam is finally ready to leave his television career in the dust and pursue what he relishes the most now – coaching.
It has been seven years since Emam, best known for his feints and defence-splitting pass during a highly-successful reign with Zamalek and the Egyptian national team, last stepped onto a pitch, having hung up his boots in 2008 at the age of 33 after helping his Cairo club win the Egypt Cup title to end a four-year title drought.
During that Egypt Cup final, his teammates wore undershirts emblazoned with his picture in an emotional sign to the fan favourite skipper, who typically shies away from any controversy.
In the subsequent years, Emam demonstrated a knack to stay in the spotlight albeit through his work as a television pundit, far away from Zamalek's numerous administrative problems, although he did have a brief managerial experience when he was elected as a club board member in 2009.
But now, he felt time has come to endure the difficulties of being part of a backroom staff, and under the leadership of the most outspoken chairman ever in controversial lawyer Mortada Mansour, having been appointed as head of Zamalek's football sector and a football director.
The unfamiliar role means that he will effectively be an assistant to manager Ahmed 'Mido' Hossam, who also came through Zamalek's youth ranks before playing for a host of European clubs in his nomadic career including Ajax Amsterdam and Tottenham Hotspur. Mido, 32, is eight years younger than Emam.
“I was offered the football director position firstly, but I wanted another role that is more related to the pitch,” Emam told LCT TV channel after accepting the new position on Sunday.
“I was motivated for the challenge for many reasons, including my strong relation with the place that made my name and also the presence of many stars in the current strong team.
“Any one needs new challenges in his life. I worked as a football analyst and TV presenter and I think I'm good but now I want to return to the pitch. I have confidence that there will be a harmony between me and Mido. We both aim to lead the team back to winning ways.
“I won’t surely work for a big club like Zamalek and also appear as a football analyst at the same time. I will be fully concentrated on my new job,” he added.
Being a member of a family that has served the White Knights for decades, Hazem was lucky enough to follow in the steps of his father Hamada Emam (former Zamalek and Egypt star in the 1960s) and grandfather Yahia Emam (former Zamalek and Egypt goalkeeper in the 1930s).
Emam is considered as one of Zamalek's best ever players, having led the club to a host of titles (4 league titles, two Egypt Cups, two Egyptian Super Cups, two African Champions Leagues and one CAF Super Cup).
The outstanding performances of the talented star with Egypt at the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations when he was still 20 proved a turning point, earning him a move to Udinese in the reputable Italian Calcio a few months later.
However, he failed to forge a notable success as he just made 11 appearances and went to Dutch side De Graafschap on loan before returning to Zamalek in 2001.
He repeatedly said he wished he had gained some experience from less illustrious European leagues before moving to a physically demanding competition such as the Serie A but he can still be proud of his huge success with his boyhood club.
At the international level, Hazem also left his mark after making 87 appearances with Egypt, scoring 16 goals and taking part in the Africa Cup of Nations five times in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2004. His biggest achievement was playing a pivotal role in helping the Pharaohs win the 1998 edition in Burkina Faso.
During that tournament, he was lauded for some neat combinations with strike partner and Egypt's all-time leading scorer Hossam Hassan characterized by back-heels and catchy one-twos.
But in a rare low note, Zamalek fans chanted against their favourite star during an opening league loss to Ismaily in 2007, calling on him to retire after he made several mis-placed passes after being introduced as a second-half substitute.
But nothing could blemish an otherwise glittering career.
"I would like to thank the club's board for their confidence in me. I played before for the club and also with the national team, but I feel a different and big responsibility this time," Emam said.
"I think we will do good things as long as the board and media stand by us."
Zamalek enjoyed a very successful season last year, winning the league trophy for the first time since 2004 as well as clinching the Egypt Cup under Portuguese coach Jesualdo Ferreira, who left early this season after a dispute with chairman Mortada Mansour.
Brazilian coach Marcos Paqueta then took over but his tenure lasted less than a month after he could only win twice in five league games. He was sacked and Mido brought in as a replacement, managing Zamalek for a second stint.
Zamalek are currently fourth in the league table with 18 points (after five wins, 3 draws and one loss), five behind leaders Maqassa, who have played three matches more.
Fans are pinning their hopes on Mido and Emam to steer the team to new titles and the start was encouraging, with Zamalek claiming a 2-0 victory over surprise package Dakhleya in a rescheduled league game on Tuesday.
"I would like to congratulate Zamalek fans for the win. Thank you all for your support and confidence," Emam said after the match.
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