2020 sports yearender: COVID-19 pandemic leads to longest Egyptian football season

Ahram Online , Monday 28 Dec 2020

In a series of stories, Ahram Online compiles the remarkable sporting events of 2020

Ramdan sobhi
The transfer of Ramadan Sobhi to transfer sent shock waves across Egyptian football (Photo courtesy of Pyramids official Facebook page)

It took more than a year to complete the Egyptian football season, marking the longest ever campaign forced because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The season started in September in 2019 and ended in early December the following year, thanks to an unexpected disruption that at one point threatened to ruin the whole season.

The pandemic led to a five-month hiatus, with domestic football coming to a halt in March before resuming in August.

Squad depth

Premier League champions Ahly reaped the rewards of a squad depth that was of huge advantage when football resumed as they managed to navigate fixture congestion while other teams lagged behind.

On paper, Zamalek seemed to boast a better squad comprised of high-profile stars such as Moroccan winger Achraf Bencharki, combative midfielder Tarek Hamed and in-form striker Mostafa Mohamed.

But the White Knights could hardly make for absences whenever one of their regulars was injured, unlike Ahly whose fringe players rose to the occasion when needed and allowed Swiss coach Rene Weiler and his successor Pitso Mosimane to rotate the squad more often.

"Playing every three days is too exhausting, we have no time to prepare our players," Enppi coach Helmi Toulan said after his side lost to Ahly in October.

"It's difficult for all the teams but Ahly are a very big team who can field three different teams."

Ramadan Sobhi saga

The off-pitch highlight of the year was a shocking decision from Ramadan Sobhi, a product of Ahly's youth academy, to turn down the overtures of his boyhood club and snub their offer to sign him on a permanent basis in August.

Sobhi was instrumental in helping Ahly to the league title the previous season and his loan deal was due to expire in the summer of 2020. He started the season in superb fashion, netting five goals in his first nine games in all competitions before sustaining an injury that kept him on the sidelines for several months.

Ahly, aware of the importance of keeping their prized assets, reached a deal with English side Huddersfield Town to sign Sobhi permanently and the winger seemed to have his heart set on a stay at the club.

However, in an unexpected twist, he rejected Ahly's agreement with Huddersfield after being lured by a lucrative offer from the big-spending Pyramids FC, who reportedly offered him a whopping EGP 80 million ($5 million) three-year contract.

He did not complete the season with Ahly, becoming an outcast among the team's die-hard faithful.

Rise of new powers

The trend of investors pumping money into their clubs continued, with Ceramica Cleopatra making their top-flight debut after earning promotion from the second division before spending big in the close season to bolster their squad.

They landed 14 players, including several footballers who played for Cairo's famed duo Ahly and Zamalek, such as playmaker Mohamed Ibrahim and winger Mido Gaber.

Other recruits included Ghanaian attacking midfielder Winnful Cobbina, who arrived from Accra-based club Hearts of Oak, and Ivorian winger Fonsinho, a free agent who had spells with ASEC Mimosas and Africa Sports.  

The club, which was established in 2006, is bankrolled by wealthy owner Mohamed Abou El Enein, a famous businessman who owns one of the leading Egyptian firms in the ceramic wall and floor tiles industry. He is also a member of the Egyptian parliament.

They made an impressive start to their maiden Premier League appearance, winning their opening two matches after beating El-Entag El-Harbi and fellow debutants the National Bank of Egypt (NBE).

NBE, owned by the largest bank in Egypt, have themselves also spent heavily after earning promotion.

Both sides, just like most of the privately-owned outfits, do not have any fan bases.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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