Struggling to stay afloat, the majority of Egypt’s cash-strapped football clubs are consistently complaining about dire straits while some of their most promising players may quietly be contemplating jumping ship to make the most of the current mayhem.
The ongoing dull Egyptian Premier League reflects growing financial difficulties that have virtually put an end to the usual headline-grabbing transfers between local teams, prompting disgruntled players to give less than their all.
Some popular clubs, such as Ismaily and Ittihad of Alexandria, who enjoy a large fan base in the coastal cities, are struggling to pay the monthly salaries of their players, while privately-owned sides, which are in a relatively stronger condition, are attempting to balance their books.
All of them are suffering the adverse effects of a lengthy football stoppage that lasted from February 2012 to February 2013 following the Port Said Stadium disaster, depriving already struggling clubs of television revenue, which is their main source of income.
That might have been a blessing in disguise for players who are yearning to pursue their careers overseas.
With the clubs’ hefty financial demands usually constituting a stumbling block for ambitious players, ongoing financial burdens could signal a shift to a more lenient approach that would help promising youngsters realise their goals of carving out careers abroad.
“The doors began to open up for the players now because of the financial problems,” ENPPI coach Tarek El-Ashry, whose side may sell two of their influential players in summer, told Ahram Online.
“The clubs are suffering from a lack of resources, so selling players is a viable option to ease that crisis.”
ENPPI, one of Egyptian football's dark horses in recent years, is owned by a famous petroleum company but is still finding it difficult to cope with the growing costs of a sport that barely yields profits in a much-maligned football system.
Their current squad includes two youngsters who excelled with Egypt’s U-20 side during their triumphant African Championship campaign in March. Saleh Gomaa was named as the tournament’s best player after pulling the strings in Egypt’s midfield, while winger Ahmed Refaat caught the eye with some catchy feints down the flanks.
Central midfielder Gomaa is linked with several European clubs, including Belgium’s Anderlecht and Spain’s Sevilla who have offered him trials recently, while Swiss side Basel are reportedly interested in acquiring Refaat.
Anderlecht, where Egypt’s veteran midfielder Ahmed Hassan enjoyed a highly successful spell from 2006 to 2008, once tried to sign Zamalek’s winger Mahmoud Abdel-Razek, known as "Shikabala," but were turned off by a hefty asking price of 4.5 million euros. They are likely to find it much easier to lure Gomaa from ENPPI this time around.
“In addition to easing the financial problems, we are also seeking to help young players excel abroad and promote our youth academy,” El-Ashry added. “That will only happen if we lessen our demands and allow them to go to Europe.”
Financial woes have already led to an exodus of players, including Ahly’s right-back Ahmed Fathi and forward Mohamed "Gedo" Nagy, who left a club known for its determination to keep its prized assets, to join English Second Division side Hull City on six-month loan deals for £500,000.
Ahly’s financial problems also prompted them to dispense with evergreen playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika, a club icon, who joined Emeraiti club Bani Yas on another short-term loan deal in January.
Arab Contractors duo Mohamed Salah and Mohamed El-Neny left for Basel and Ismaily defender Ahmed Hegazy moved to Italy’s Fiorentina during a lengthy football stoppage that paved the way for smoother transfers to Europe.
Egyptian football agent Nader Shawky facilitated some high-profile transfers in the last few years, including Amr Zaki’s move to Wigan Athletic and Ahmed Elmohamady’s move to Sunderland.
He dealt with Egyptian clubs at a time when they were not in a precarious situation, persistently attempting to lower their demands to help his clients achieve their aims of playing in much more glamorous league competitions.
Shawky acknowledges that it’s relatively easier now for players to move on, but said the valuation of the likes of Ahly and Zamalek — Egypt’s leading duo — of their influential footballers remains higher than it should be.
“The current situation makes it relatively easier for agents in the decisive part of the negotiations, where you can take advantage of the financial difficulties to get a lower price,” he told Ahram Online.
“But the big clubs will still ask for hefty transfer fees. For example, if Zamalek get an offer for Mohamed Ibrahim or Omar Gaber they will probably ask for around two million euros to offload either of them.
“Smaller clubs are more open to selling their players at moderate prices.”
With Salah taking the Swiss league by storm, and Elmohamady and Gedo playing a key role in Hull’s bid to seal promotion to the English Premier League, more European clubs could turn their attention to the Egyptian player market.
“Things will be clearer in the summer transfer window as to whether the clubs will lessen their demands. We need to wait and see,” Shawky concluded.
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