Abou-Treika, Egypt's evergreen footballer, defies critics to win CAF award

Hatem Maher, Thursday 20 Dec 2012

As reliant as ever, Mohamed Abou-Treika demonstrates his glory days are not over yet after becoming the best African-based player on Thursday

Mohamed Abou-Treika
Ahly's playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika (Photo: Reuters)

Mohamed Abou-Treika defied critics saying he is way past his prime after becoming the best African-based player on Thursday, capping his efforts to make up for his fading pace and agility.

The Ahly playmaker, who is widely considered as one of the best players in Egypt's history, beat off competition from Zambian duo Rainford Kalaba and Stoppila Sunzu to become the second Egyptian player to clinch CAF's award after Ahmed Hassan, who won it in 2010.

Despite enduring a difficult year that culminated in him being punished by his own club, where he enjoys a cult status, Abou-Treika lived up to his billing as Ahly's rescuer with some decisive goals that saw the Red Devils reach the pinnacle of African glory despite lack of domestic action.

The talented schemer may not be the agile player of the past but his deadly weapons remain intact: unique passing capabilities and clinical finishing. He expertly switched his playing style from that of an onrushing playmaker who confronts his challengers to an experienced orchestrator whose defence-splitting passes are enough to bamboozle opponents.

The 34-year-old's form silenced critics calling on him to hang up his boots and boosted his reputation as Ahly's undisputed number one.

Abou-Treika's year got off to a traumatic start when he witnessed Egypt's worst-ever football tragedy after over 70 Ahly fans were killed following crowd riots in an ill-tempered Egyptian Premier League game against Masry in coastal city Port Said on 1 February.

Football stoppage

The disaster led to an indefinite suspension of domestic football, restricting Ahly to African Champions League games as their only competitive action, where Abou-Treika excelled to lead the Cairo giants to a record-extending seventh title.

But before then, Abou-Treika had to endure the disappointment of Egypt's stunning failure to reach the 2013 African Nations Cup for the second time running following a defeat by minnows Central Africa.

But he still had a chance to taste national team action, having been part of Egypt's squad for the London Olympic Games as one of the three over-age players.

He produced some fine displays in the summer Olympics, scoring two goals in the 3-2 defeat by Brazil and 3-1 victory over Belarus in the group stage before the young Pharaohs were eliminated at the hands of Japan in the quarterfinal.

But Abou-Treika's notable contribution came in the African Champions League, from the outset.

Ahly were on the verge of failing to reach the group stage of the continent's elite club competition but Abou-Treika netted a hat-trick in Cairo to lift his side to the quarters with a nervy 3-2 aggregate victory over Mali's Stade Malien in the preliminary round.

He also headed a late winner in a 1-0 group-stage victory over arch-rivals rivals Zamalek in July to become the Cairo derby's all-time leading scorer with 11 goals.

Club punishment

Untouchable and adored by fans, Abou-Treika remained a revered figure among Ahly's die-hard faithful when he opted to skip an Egypt Super Cup game against ENPPI in September.

He was the only Ahly player to be spared the wrath of Ultras Ahlawy, a group of ardent Ahly supporters who wanted their club to boycott domestic football until the perpetrators of the Port Said disaster were brought to justice.

He incurred the wrath of the conservative Ahly board, which hit him with a two-month suspension and fined him LE500,000 amid reports that his teammates were equally infuriated because his decision to skip the ENPPI game landed them in hot waters with the fans.

“Thank you Abou-Treika for your historic stance. You support the fans’ efforts in seeking justice,” Ultras Ahlawy said on its official Facebook page.

“We have a message to the rest of Ahly players: choose your fans and they will be always there for you.”

However, the mild-mannered footballer still apologized for his club and teammates and returned from suspension as solid as ever, playing a key role in helping Ahly win the Champions League following a 3-2 aggregate win over holders Esperance of Tunisia.

He also netted the goal that gave Ahly a 2-1 victory over hosts Sanfrecce Hiroshima in their Club World Cup opener earlier this month but the team's campaign was short-lived after they lost to eventual winners Corinthians of Brazil in the semi-final.

Abou-Treika's consolation was becoming the tournament's joint all-time top scorer with four goals, on level with Argentinean wizard Lionel Messi and Brazilian forward Denilson.

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