Preview: Off-field controversies overshadow Ahly's Egyptian league campaign

Ahram Online , Sunday 16 Aug 2020

Ahly crushed Aswan 5-1 in the reverse league fixture last year (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Ahly's march towards a fifth consecutive Egyptian Premier League title is overshadowed by some off-field controversies, on top of which is Ramadan Sobhi's sudden refusal to join his boyhood club permanently.

The runaway leaders face lowly Aswan on Monday on the back of some below-par displays of late as well as rare mutiny among senior and key footballers.

Sobhi, Ahly's standout performer and a product of their youth academy, dropped a bombshell by refusing an offer from the club to sign him from English side Huddersfield on a permanent basis, informing them that he plans to join the big-spending Pyramids FC.

Sobhi's sudden assertion came even though he committed his future to Ahly more than once, with his agent saying over and over again that his client would never play in Egypt for any club other than Ahly.

However, a lucrative offer from Pyramids, which according to local reports would see the 23-year-old earn EGP 80 million ($5 million) over three seasons, was too hard to resist and Sobhi is now considered an outcast by Ahly's fervent supporters.

Ahly's veteran goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy, Sobhi's brother-in-law, was also caught in the crossfire, with the club saying he would be axed for the remainder of the season after he publicly discussed Sobhi's saga in a series of tweets.

Ekramy was going to leave the club anyway after announcing in March that he will not extend his Ahly deal amid reports linking him with a move to Pyramids FC, who are also set to sign Ahly's experienced right-back Ahmed Fathi.

However, Ekramy was due to complete the prolonged season, which was suspended for five months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He distanced himself from Sobhi's refusal to stay at Ahly but the club appear to be implementing a zero tolerance policy towards any off-field talks, slapping Ekramy with a hefty fine before announcing that he would no longer be part of the team for the remainder of the season.

On the pitch, such sagas look to have a clear bearing. Ahly were held to only their second draw of the season on Friday following a 1-1 stalemate with El-Entag El-Harby, who were livelier.

Ahly beat Enppi 2-0 on their first match after the league was resumed earlier this month but they also looked sluggish, with the absence of Sobhi and the 10-game suspension of fellow winger Mahmoud Kahraba depriving them of much-needed creativity upfront.

Winning the league looks a mere formality as Ahly enjoy a 15-point lead over Zamalek on top, but their form will raise alarm bells as the club gear up for the crucial African Champions League semi-final against Morocco's Wydad next month.

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