Ahmed ElMohamady loves football. That is all he is interested in talking about. When I meet the 25 year-old, he is brimming with ambition to someday play for Real Madrid. He tells me how his idol is Cristiano Ronaldo, how the only thing that keeps him up all night is feeling bad about not playing well that day. His eyes beam with pride as he remembers his achievements, “Man of the Match” in the game against Algeria in 2010, his participation in two Africa Cup of Nations championships and how he made it all the way to the Premier League from the small town of Tanta, ElGharbia.
The beginning sounds quite familiar. A star is born with magnificent talent on the field, or rather in the street. ElMohamady started playing football as young as four years old and it was his father who passed along his passion for the game. But that didn’t keep him from getting into trouble for sneaking out of the house to play with his friends on the street. Every game he played meant a scolding when he got home from his mother, who worried about his schoolwork. Little did she know, her son would be one of the select few to fulfill the dream of playing professional football in the Premiere League.
ElMohamady first joined the Ghazl El-Mahala club at the young age of 17 and it was not long before the offers started pouring in. None other than the two major teams of Al Ahly and Zamalek as well as Enppi began vying for the young talent. The obvious choice was Ahly, not only because ElMohamady’s father is a staunch Ahly fan, but because it is the biggest club in Africa. What 17 year-old wouldn’t want to wear the famed red and white uniform or be on the same team as Mohamed Aboutrika? But ElMohamady’s choice proved to be rather farsighted. The perceptive young man quickly realised, with the advice of Enppi’s Alaa Abdel Sadek, that Al Ahly club as great as it is, would be the end of the line for him. And his ambition went further than that. Enter Enppi, a football club known for relying on young talent rather than big names like Al Ahly does. This meant ElMohamady would gain the experience he needed to back his talent and hone his skills.
In addition, Enppi would also act as a stepping-stone. Soon enough, ElMohamady’s skills caught the eye of Sunderland Manager, Bruce Steve, shortly after the Africa Cup of Nations game in 2010. Steve sought to sign him up for one year on loan and a deal was made with Enppi.
ElMohamady was an instant success. He played in 36 out of 38 matches, performing so well that after six months, Sunderland signed him on for another three years. Harsh London weather and homesickness were among the difficulties he faced, but then again, ElMohamady is all about the football. “I channeled all my energy into the training and the matches, and it paid off.” In a few months, ElMohamady had become an integral part of the Sunderland team and had adapted well; making friends amongst teammates and in London (where he went every weekend for his dose of Egyptian food). “The best thing about playing in the Premiere League is the discipline. There is a time for everything; we eat, sleep, train and even have fun at scheduled times.”
But alas, his honeymoon with Sunderland came to an end with the second season. After two wins at the beginning of the season, the team had a run of bad luck, losing one game after the other, leading the club to replace Bruce with a new manager. The latter thought it best to keep ElMohamady in the sidelines. Only 18 out of 38 games saw ElMohamady on the field. Needless to say, it was a difficult time. But instead of being at loggerheads with his team manager, ElMohamady did the smart thing; he kept his cool and played it safe. He spoke with him rationally about his wasted skill and time. “I decided I would be flexible. What’s the point of being stubborn and having a fallout with the team manager? I can think of a few big talented football stars who’ve done similar things. What did they gain?” And with some patience, flexibility and self-control, ElMohamady survived the situation until his big break came with a transfer to his favourite manager Bruce in Hull City where his talent was allowed to shine bright once again.
But does this mean the young talent is not planning on returning to Egypt? The new Egypt, in particular,? ElMohamady is neither keen on returning to play in the homeland for good, nor is he big on politics. “I come to see the national team every month. But I don’t think I could come back and play in Egypt for good. If I come back I won’t be able to play the way I want. My performance will drop because I won’t find the same kind of discipline and commitment.” As for the revolution, “there were some good things about it and other things that were not so good.” And somehow our conversation about the Egyptian revolution manages to veer back to football. “Every day during our training sessions, my teammates would ask about the latest developments. I was proud to see them interested in my country and this brought us closer together during the games.”
Then suddenly just as the interview was coming to a close, and right before ElMohamady stepped into another room to prepare for our exclusive eniGma photo shoot, the young footballer tells me something with a decidedly excited tone, something surprisingly not about football. “I am getting married soon!” The next ten minutes saw me trying to get out any information about who the girl is, how they met, when and where the big day will be. In the meantime, a suddenly cocky ElMohamady refuses to disclose the identity of the lucky girl, obviously enjoying holding the information hostage for now. He would only hint that his marriage is somehow related to his mysterious looking tattoo, and that “all will be revealed in due time.” While I squint my eyes and turn my head sideways in an attempt to decipher the intertwined Chinese characters drawn on the inside of his right elbow, ElMohamady interrupts, “marriage is good for professional football players. It brings stability and discipline into their lives, which is something they need to be successful.”
And once again, ElMohamady is all about the football.