Ahly skipper Hossam Ghaly speaks during his interview with Al-Ahram daily (Photo: Ahram)
Skipper Hossam Ghaly, a darling of Ahly supporters, confirmed that he would retire at the end of the season, bringing the curtain down on an 18-year career that is equally marked by controversy and brilliance on the pitch.
In a lengthy interview with Al-Ahram's daily newspaper, Ghaly said he had decided to hang up his boots and embark on an administrative career, although he declined to confirm if his new role will be at boyhood club Ahly, where he came across as a promising youngster in 2000.
"It's the end of my trip. I've been a professional player for 18 years, during which I played for the best teams. I'm satisfied with my career to a big extent; I've never let myself, my fans or my clubs down," he said on Saturday.
Ghaly returned to Egypt and Africa's most successful club last month after Saudi club Al-Nasr cut short his loan spell, as the veteran central midfielder faced heavy criticism for a number of below-par displays.
The 36-year-old's leadership qualities and spirited performances made him one of Ahly's fan favourites, although his occasional tantrums have also cost him dear.
He was stripped of Ahly's captaincy after throwing and kicking the skipper's armband to the ground after being red-carded in an Egyptian Premier League game against Haras El-Hodoud in May 2015 and also fell out with former teammate and then football director Wael Gomaa a few months later.
His outbursts also ruined what was a promising spell with English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur when he threw his shirt to the ground after being substituted during a game against Blackburn Rovers in 2007.
He told Al-Ahram he regretted his decision not to join Birmingham city in August 2007, having abruptly called off the move after having his fitness levels questioned by then coach Steve Bruce during a training session.
"Maybe my little experience resulted in me not appearing in a good way. I received an offer from Birmingham but I thought things were not suitable for me at the time and I rejected it," he added.
"This was worse than what I did at Tottenham because a move to Birmingham could have helped me re-launch my career (in the Premier League)."
No World Cup
His recurring problems with managers have also ended any hopes he had of ending his career in the best possible way by appearing at the World Cup, the football's most prestigious showpiece which Egypt had reached after a 28-year absence.
Having complained that his Ahly teammates were not being given a "good treatment" in the national team, he was involved in a feud with assistant coach Osama Nabih, who is also a former striker of Ahly's arch-rivals Zamalek.
Reports also said Ghaly incensed Argentinean boss Hector Cuper by not abiding by his game plan when he came on as a second-half substitute during an African Cup of Nations qualifier away to Nigeria in March 2016.
"I don't mind being a scapegoat and bear full responsibility for my actions so that my Ahly teammates would still receive a treatment that is up to the standards of our famed club," he said, deflecting criticism over his conduct.
"We have to stand against any attempt to underestimate the Ahly players because they always represent the backbone of any national team."
Despite mounting criticism of Ghaly's behavior, he remains one of the most gifted Egyptian midfielders of all time, with his neat distribution of the ball, cross-field passes and skilful moves past challengers earning him acclaim.
He won three Egyptian league, two Egyptian Cup and two African Champions League titles with Ahly. He was also part of Egypt's 2010 African Cup of Nations winning side.
"I think Egypt can reach the round of 16 at the World Cup … everything is possible in football," he said.
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