Mohamed Aboutrika: Egypt’s greatest player of all time
Iconic. Prolific. Enthralling. Controversial. In so many ways one gifted player left an indelible print on African football. Today Liverpool's Mohamed Salah holds the Premier League spellbound. Outsiders can easily believe he’s the greatest footballer Egypt ever gifted the world. He isn't. The man who holds that honour is Mohamed Aboutrika.
If he’d played in Europe, the wider world might now be saying Mo Salah is cut from Aboutrika's mould. He stayed home however, playing his heart out for club and country. Egyptians love him all the more for it.
Aboutrika first stepped into the limelight when he was named Egypt’s 2004 Player of the Year. He had just joined Al Ahly and would go on to write a large portion of the club’s history from 2005 to 2012. In that period he collected nearly every accolade to which a home-based Egyptian footballer could aspire. There were seven Egyptian Premier League titles, two Egypt Cups, six Egyptian Super Cups, four of the African variety, and a staggering five CAF Champions League crowns.
He was also amazing at international level. In two consecutive African Cup of Nations tournaments the Giza-born midfielder decided the title with a pair of well-taken goals. He broke Ivorian hearts with the decisive penalty in the 2006 AFCON. The following year he stuck a knife in Cameroonian hearts with a 76th minute strike to ensure the Pharaohs successful title defence. That same year he was duly voted the BBC African Footballer of the Year.
Aboutrika’s Achilles heel was World Cup qualification. On three occasions he found no joy. Egypt failed to qualify from 2006 through 2014. He retired with that one accomplishment unfulfilled.
He did show some delightful panache in helping Al Ahly become the first African side to medal at the FIFA Club World Cup with a third place finish in 2006.
The fact Aboutrika turned down every chance to ply his trade in Europe impacted ponderously on his international popularity. How else does one explain why such a phenomenal player never won the African Footballer of the Year award? In the face of that bias he had to be content with a similar award organized for continental-based African footballers, winning that consolation prize a record four times.
Abou, who has a degree in Philosophy, stayed home simply because he loved being surround by Egyptians and Egyptian culture. He cherished the local atmosphere far above the riches and glamour of European football.
Nevertheless his determination and commitment to the game were thick enough to be cut with a knife. Combined with his innate talent, success couldn’t help but follow. The Ahlawy (Al Ahly faithful) adored their star, dubbing him the Prince of Hearts.
In December 2013 Aboutrika called time on an incredibly successful career. He had scored 199 goals in 404 club games, again not doing the expected by sticking around to reach a milestone. He did record 38 goals in a nice round century of appearances for Egypt. For any midfielder those are astronomical figures.
Recently FIFA conducted an online poll to nominate the greatest Egyptian footballer in history. Guess who amassed the most votes?
No, it wasn't Mo Salah.