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Egypt's football high earners feel revolution heat

Social upheaval in Egypt forces football authorities to rethink the salaries of star players in the domestic league

Hatem Maher , Saturday 5 Mar 2011
Ahly fans
Ahly fans hold up banner to criticize their players
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Ahly’s ardent fans failed to adhere to their unwavering support of their team following the popular Egyptian uprising, opting instead to criticise stars who were long acclaimed for their heroics.

The Red Devils enjoyed unprecedented success during the past six years, winning a host of domestic and African titles thanks to the contribution of some big name signings who also formed the backbone of a hugely successful Egyptian national team.

Ahly’s stars basked in constant praise during that period, but the recent 18-day revolt that eventually toppled former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has changed the mentality of the team's die-hard fans.

“You're ask for millions and you don’t care about the poverty of Egyptians,” read a banner carried by Ahly fans during a 1-0 friendly victory over Harras El-Hodoud last week.

A famous chant in the revolution called for "social justice", a phrase rarely used in Egyptian football where high earners escape criticism as long as they deliver on the pitch. That appears no longer the case as many fans bristled with anger on internet fan forums, an indication that even cult footballing figures might lose the immunity they used to have.

“The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) is considering lowering the wages of the technical staffs of national teams,” EFA said in a statement in an apparent attempt to appease growing anger. “EFA has also decided to look into ways of setting up a barometer for the price of players, which could be the first step in [capping] those prices.”

No balance

The majority of Egyptian clubs suffer from persistent financial problems and often complain about lack of support from the government but they object to releasing their high-earning stars.

Ismaily, the three-time Egyptian League winners who are mired in debt, fended off Ahly’s interest in Hosni Abd-Rabou and decided to hold onto their influential midfielder, who earns LE5 million per season.

The Dervishes did their utmost to fulfil their financial obligations towards Abd-Rabou at the same time the club’s low-ranking employees held a strike over unpaid wages.

“We shouldn’t have waited for a revolution to do the right thing. Pundits have been talking about that barometer for around 15 years but nothing was realised,” sports critic Hassan El-Mestekawy told Reuters.

“I’m not against the players who earn millions of pounds if they are able to bring to their club a large amount of money through their capabilities. We should not blame the players, we should blame the unprofessional administrations of the clubs.”

Cairo giants Zamalek were also determined to keep hold of their prized assets despite their mounting financial problems.

They rejected an offer from Belgium’s Anderlecht to sign forward Mahmoud Abdel-Razek "Shikabala" last summer and turned down Gulf overtures for central defender Mahmoud Fathallah, who penned a new four-year deal in December last year.

Zamalek also defied their troubles to sign their former striker Ahmed Hossam "Mido", who was free of any other club but would still cost the side a hefty salary, according to widespread reports.

The nomadic frontman, who ended a long journey in Europe to finish up his career in Egypt, is concerned any measures to impose salary caps could affect the domestic league’s competitiveness.

No stars

“There will be stars in the competition if those measures are applied,” Mido, whose transfer completion to Zamalek was delayed amid the Egyptian uprising, was quoted as saying by local media.

“They will kill the ambitions of the players and force them to play elsewhere. I’m personally against that,” he said.

Ahly marketing director Adli Al-Qaeyi, the architect of the club’s high-profile signings, supported the opposite view of Mido’s. “The new measures will be a rare positive step from the EFA. The players should be aware that the clubs’ current financial position is not healthy,” he said.

“I think the new rules should be applied this season because the clubs are not getting revenues due to the current circumstances,” he said, referring to the Egyptian League’s ongoing stoppage.  

The debate of competitive league versus large number of European-based players is likely to be stirred once again, given that the impending measures could turn Egypt into an exporter of talents, such as heavyweights Cameroon, Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

Egypt’s failure to reach the World Cup is perennial but their home-based players succeeded in guiding the Pharaohs to three successive African Cup of Nations triumphs in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

The country’s domestic league is widely considered the most competitive in Africa, but it remains to be seen whether it can maintain its calibre.

 
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