Mohamed Abou-Treika usually hits headlines for all the right reasons but he stirred rare controversy on Friday after surprisingly pulling out of Ahly’s squad for Sunday’s Super Cup game against ENPPI.
The mild-mannered playmaker, one of Ahly’s all-time greats and a cult figure among their faithful, opted to stand by the team’s hardcore fans (Ultras Ahlawy), who vowed not to let the Cairo giants feature in the annual curtain-raiser of the season.
Ultras Ahlawy, founded in 2007, have been frequently lauded for creating feverish atmosphere inside stadiums, enthusiastically egging on their highly-successful team which have dominated Egyptian football since 2004.
However, they turned against their own side lately, accusing the club’s board of directors of not doing enough to pressure Egyptian authorities into punishing the culprits of February’s Port Said deadly riots, which left over 70 fans Ahly dead and hundreds injured.
They also rebuked the players for agreeing to play Sunday’s match, which will take place in Alexandria behind closed doors, “before justice is done” in the notorious case.
Abou-Treika, who led Ahly to a host of domestic and continental titles, was the only player to be spared their wrath.
“Thank you Abou-Treika for your historic stance. You support the fans’ efforts in seeking justice,” Ultras Ahlawy said on its official Facebook page, drawing many passionate comments from the social network users.
“We have a message to the rest of Ahly players: choose your fans and they will be always there for you.”
Ahly’s brief official statement said Abou-Treika withdrew “for personal reasons” without elaborating further, but the club’s anger was transmitted via football director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz.
“Ahly will not be affected by the absence of anyone, we are not a one-player club,” Abdel-Hafiz, a former winger who briefly played alongside Abou-Treika before retiring, told Ahram’s Arabic-language news website.
“We are solely concentrating on winning Sunday’s game against ENPPI. Any decision regarding Abou-Treika will be taken after the game, we don’t want to distract the players from the task ahead of them.
“We want to win to dedicate this triumph to the martyrs of the Port Said disaster,” he added.
Ahly board member Khaled Mortagy said he would not attend the Super Cup game but did not explain the reason for his decision. “Not going to the Super Cup game. Disappointed with the way things are being dealt with,” he said in a tweet that may hint at disagreements in the usually intact board of directors.
Local reports suggested some players were unhappy with Abou-Treika’s decision, which would prompt fans to portray his teammates as the unfaithful lads who abandoned the rights of the Port Said victims.
The 33-year-old, who has never been involved in any disputes with Ahly or his teammates, was fiercely criticised by many football pundits, including some of the club’s old stars such as former goalkeeper Ahmed Shobeir and defender Mostafa Younes.
Shobeir said Abou-Treika “will incur many losses” following that decision and suggested that his glorious history “might be ruined”.
Younes was a more vocal critic, saying Abou-Treika had supported “outlaws”. He also said the player was not honest, citing an LE10 million that he allegedly earns every year.
The evergreen playmaker got a rare backing from sports critic Alaa Sadek, a staunch fan of Ultras Ahlawy. “Whoever has the God’s backing should never worry over anything. The corrupt media and the attack of the enviers will not affect Abou-Treika,” he said.
Given the history of the most successful African club of all time, Abou-Treika is unlikely to stay put.
A rigid Ahly have a regular zero-tolerance policy that saw them dispense with many stars over the past decades. Considering them outcasts, the club declined to pardon several players who eyed reconciliation.
The last decade witnessed two major headline-grabbing issues.
Ahly rebuffed a handful of attempts from Ibrahim Saied, a promising versatile defender in the early 2000s, to return to the club he left in 2003 following many disciplinary problems.
Essam El-Hadary, who is widely considered as Egypt’s best-ever goalkeeper, was also vilified for violating his contract with Ahly in 2008 to join Swiss side Sion. He was never forgiven by the club.
“We have to respect Abou-Treika’s opinion and the way he thinks,” El-Hadary said in an interview with Modern Sport TV channel.
“We also have to find out the reasons for his decision before making any judgments.”
Abou-Treika has been Ahly’s most prominent star since joining the club from Tersana in 2004. He steered the club to seven Egyptian Premier League titles, two Egypt Cup triumphs and 3 African Champions Leagues among other minor accolades.
He has scored 79 league goals for Ahly and finished as the competition’s top scorer in 2006 with 18 goals.
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