BACK WHEN I WAS NINE YEARS OLD, we had a family vacation in England. As we were walking down the street in Cobham, Surrey, my father spotted a couple of Chelsea players, he grabbed my hand and we followed them to find Chelsea’s training ground. With a huge smile and sparkling eyes, I watched my favourite team training for 30 minutes. Then I looked up to my old man, asking him if there was any chance I could take a picture with my hero, Gianfranco Zola.
My dad stood next to me with no idea what to do, but luckily enough there was a guy eavesdropping on us, who asked where we had come from. As we told him we were from Egypt, he said, “Oh, the land of Mido, our Ajax star!” It turned out that the Ajax fan was Carlos Hasselbaink, brother of Jimmy Floyd. I ended up taking a picture with Hasselbaink and embracing Gianfranco in the most beautiful memory of my childhood.
Ajax signed an 18-year-old Ahmed Hossam ‘Mido’ only a year after he was named the best African player in the Jupiler League while playing for Gent. Mido hit the ground running and executed his target-man role to perfection, poaching headers and striking goals with his deadly left boot, earning his team three trophies in his debut season.
The Egyptian grew as a maverick character for de Godenzonen, a teenager with a hunger to fulfil his dreams. He famously walked up to his coach, the legendary Ronald Koeman, after a training session and demanded that he never start on the flanks again. Although Koeman warned him it wouldn’t be easy challenging European Golden Boot winner Nikos Machlas and Zlatan Ibrahimović for a starting spot, the Pharaoh’s stubbornness meant he backed himself.
With a desire to fit in, his accurate finishing and his ability to ghost in behind defenders to stab the ball into the net, Mido slowly became Koeman’s favourite prima punta, relegating the Swedish giant to the bench.
However, the tables turned in his second season as Ibrahimović learnt to marry strength and aggression with grace and elegance, forcing Koeman to pick him over the Egyptian. Mido was Amsterdamned, spending most of his time on the sidelines, which led to a row with his coach and exclusion from the squad on several occasions. It was the start of a familiar trend.
“When I got to the time where I had to fight a lot for my starting spot, I handled things the wrong way, I was in a war with Koeman, I didn’t show up for training. I wanted to leave and go back to Egypt. You don’t understand how people were following me here in Egypt. I was the only player playing at the top level in Europe. All the coffee shops and restaurants tuned into the Ajax game. Ajax were playing, that meant Mido was playing,” the striker later said.
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Then came the turning point in Mido’s career. In the biggest Eredivisie game of the season, Ajax were trailing PSV by two goals and Koeman decided to throw on an angry – he hoped hungry – Mido to partner Ibrahimović and stake his claim for the regular spot he so desperately craved.
Mido put in arguably the worst performance of his career, keeping the ball for too long, seemingly determined not to pass it to anyone. Ajax lost the game and, as the changing room doors closed, Ibrahimović couldn’t stop shouting at him, until the volatile Egyptian burst with anger, throwing scissors at the Swede which missed his head by mere inches. It was a fatal mistake that Koeman couldn’t ignore. The striker was forced out of the club and he flew back to Egypt until his agent could find him a new home.
After months of speculation, he joined Spanish side Celta Vigo on a loan deal in March. Mido swept the ball home on his debut and continued his talismanic influence over the final two months of the season, scoring four goals in just eight games for Los Célticos. The displays of the young Egyptian caught the eye of Roma chairman Franco Sensi. He stated: “I want Mido, the Ajax man who is currently at Celta Vigo on loan.” However, Roma’s subsequent offer fell short of Ajax’s expectations and Mido instead joined French side Marseille in 2003.
He formed a destructive force next to fellow African Didier Drogba as they registered notable wins at home and abroad, revolutionising the Marseille attack with their scintillating, powerful football. As a result, both players became Europe’s hottest properties.
In their biggest Champions League clash of the season, Mido rose above Michel Salgado and Iván Helguera to bullet a header past Iker Casillas in a spirited display by Les Olympiens against Real Madrid. Marseille lost the game but Mido had earned a place on top of Juventus’ transfer list that summer. Knowing he had a chance of wearing the famous black and white strips, Mido continued the season a changed man, dominating with hard work and power, gracing the French turf with some all-encompassing displays.
Although Marseille walked away from the season empty-handed, both strikers landed their dream offers to join Europe’s most prestigious clubs. It was a long summer for the former Ajax striker; he spent months waiting for his agent to finalise a deal with the Bianconeri. When the final day of the window arrived, his agent, Mino Raiola, called the Egyptian and asked him to pack his bags.
Mido spent sleepless nights excited at the prospect of teaming up with the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Pavel Nedvěd and Gianluigi Buffon, finally being given the chance to prove himself at the highest level. As he arrived at the airport, he received a phone call from Raiola telling him the deal to Juventus was off as the Turin side opted for his former teammate Ibrahimović, and that he should switch trips and book one to Rome. His old admirer Sensi was still waiting for him.
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“In the summer of 2004, Zlatan and I were going to Serie A,” Mido told DMC TV. “We both had the same agent, Mino Raiola, I had an agreement to relocate to Juventus and Ibra was going to Rome.” He continued, “When I arrived at the airport, Raiola called me and told me that I had to cancel my trip to Turin since Juventus had reached an agreement with Ibra and I was going to Roma.”
Instead of joining Fabio Capello, he joined the mess Capello had left behind at the Giallorossi. Cesare Prandelli was out of the club before the season had started, and it took less than a month for Rudi Völler to be given the boot too. Luigi Delneri, who handed much of the power in the changing room to the talismanic Francesco Totti after previous managers had tried to marginalise him, steadied the ship until the end of the season.
The instability at the Stadio Olimpico didn’t stop Mido from displaying a respectable fight and chasing his dreams. He trained with a dogged determination to earn his spot with the Wolves. Totti saw the hunger in the eyes of the Pharaoh, and after training one day, took him to the side. Mido told beIN Sports: “Totti walked down to me and told me, this is Montella’s last year with Roma, he will be starting every game. If you are lucky enough you will be subbed in the final minutes or you can start the Coppa Italia matches, but this is Montella’s year.”
Fate was not kind to Mido and, despite his best intentions to find the professionalism that had previously eluded him in his career, his efforts were in vain. Things became worse as the season went on and Mido was banished to the sidelines for most of his time in Italy, with uncertainty growing over his future at the top. Despite this, with a reputation for important goals and undoubted talent, Raiola’s phone did not stop ringing day as clubs became aware of his desire to leave Italy.
As soon as Raiola brokered an agreement with Tottenham, Mido grabbed the opportunity with both hands and bagged a brace on his debut against Portsmouth. Spurs were looking for a strike partner capable of complimenting the pace and trickery of Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane – Mido proved to be the ideal find.
In his first season in north London, Mido registered a series of eye-catching displays as he finished with a respectable 13 goals to his name, the second-highest total amongst the club’s strikers. Mido executed the target man role supremely as the focal point in attacks and primary goal-getter that manager Martin Jol craved.
While he was proving his worth at White Hart Lane, in 2006 Mido was called up to the Egyptian national team that went on to win their first Africa Cup of Nations title of the 21st century. Mido registered the first goal of the tournament, leading Egypt to a dominant 3-0 over Libya and all the way to the semi-finals. However, yet again he would find controversy in his best moments, this time by arguing with manager Hassan Shehata after being taken off before the end of the final-four tie with the scores level.
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His replacement, Amr Zaki, scored a goal with his first touch, taking Egypt to the final, a moment that justified Shehata’s decision to replace the Spurs man. That public argument resulted in Mido being dropped from the team for the final as the biggest game of his career passed him by. He was a lonely figure as Egypt reigned supreme.
In the perfect summary of his attitude, Mido blamed conspiracies amongst the coaching staff and the Egyptian FA for his withdrawal in the semi-final. “No coach could have excluded me at that time, I had already scored nine goals for Tottenham, but the truth is the coaching staff wholeheartedly wanted me out of the squad. They believed a player of my character would not fit their system. What you most importantly need to know is that my problem with Shehata wasn’t that I was being substituted, it has been a problem for over a year and that was the moment when I couldn’t take it anymore and I just exploded.”
By the summer, with the dismay of the Cup of Nations firmly behind him and a further four goals added to his tally, Tottenham opted to sign Mido on a permanent deal for almost £7 million. It was a transfer backed by the majority of the fans, who believed he could provide the perfect foil for Defoe and Keane as Spurs pressed for a Champions League spot.
Unfortunately, his relationship with Jol regressed, in part due to some unsavoury comments about Sol Campbell at the beginning of the 2006/07 season. The addition of Dimitar Berbatov that summer pushed Mido further down the pecking order with his game-time limited and his motivation to work for a place in the side clearly faltering.
After leaving Spurs, stints at Middlesbrough, Zamalek, Wigan, West Ham and back at Ajax failed to ignite the striker’s career, or his desire to return to the top of the game. He slowly drifted into a figure of fun for many around Europe, who lamented his poor attitude and inability to fulfil his potential. What they forgot, however, was that at one point he was amongst Europe’s most complete young strikers, and showed more than a few flashes of brilliance throughout his time in the game.
People look at Mido’s career from two different angles. For some, he’s an arrogant agitator, who had the potential to do great things, played alongside 13 Golden Boot winners, and could have competed with the best strikers the football world has ever seen, but failed due to a volatile personality and inconsistency on the pitch. To others, he’s was a young kid who moved to Belgium when he was just 16 years-old to become one of Egypt’s most revered footballers ever, a teenager who had a nation hooked on his every move. He was to Egypt what Diego Maradona and Pelé were to Argentina and Brazil. Quoting Ronald Koeman, “In Egypt, he is treated like a God.”
Back in his playing days, parents in Egypt took their kids to academies telling the coaches they want them to become the next Mido. That was his impact; he inspired a generation. Now, after becoming the youngest coach win the Egypt Cup at the age of 30 with Zamalek, Mido is hoping to inspire a new generation as a manager.
With his larger than life personality, Mido has already switched between four managerial jobs, after fallings out with board members and captains. Despite a passion for the game which often spills over into anger, he possesses a sharp football mind and a determination to succeed as a manager where he fell short as a player. Perhaps one day we’ll see him back on the benches of European football, this time happy to be sitting there