Why is Egypt’s football coach worrying about who captains a sinking ship?

Mohamed Salah is a two-time top scorer in the English Premier League and a Champions League winner. (AFP)
Updated 29 October 2019

Why is Egypt’s football coach worrying about who captains a sinking ship?

  • El-Badry favors having his best player, not his oldest, as the team’s captain

CAIRO: Most football players and fans attach little importance to who their team’s captain is. What concerns them most are results.

So, it is odd that talk about who should skipper Egypt’s national football team has turned into an all-out row.

Rookie head coach, Hossam El-Badry, reportedly wants superstar Mohamed Salah to wear the armband even though the oldest player is right back Ahmed Fathy, who reportedly has refused to hand over the captaincy.

Fathy was named Egypt’s captain by El-Badry for their friendly against Botswana earlier this month, however, Salah, who was rested, will supposedly reclaim the captaincy when he returns to the squad.

“I want to give the badge to a player who can lead the team — not only for the older player in the squad,” El-Badry was quoted as saying. “I’ll ask players for their opinions about who deserves to be the captain because we need a star.”

If a star is what is required, Fathy certainly fits the description. He has made 131 appearances for his country since 2002 and plays for Al-Ahly, one of Egypt’s top clubs. He has also had stints with English sides Sheffield United and Hull City.

Of course, Liverpool’s Salah is no stranger to stardom. One of the world’s best players, he is a two-time top scorer in the English Premier League and wears a Champions League ring. He has 41 international goals in 67 appearances, the best record among his teammates.

El-Badry appears to be implying that Egypt’s captain need not be the oldest player on the team. That flies in the face of tradition in the Arab world where the captain is automatically the most senior player, not necessarily a star or the squad’s best performer.

El-Badry might cite the case of Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt who became the youngest captain in a European Champions League knockout game when he wore Ajax’s skipper armband at 19 in a game against Real Madrid in February this year.

It would appear that El-Badry favors having his best player, not his oldest, as the team’s captain.

Young or old, good or great, and regardless of whether they boast leadership qualities, it is not usually of concern among Egyptian and other Arab teams who is captain. They are given the routine tasks of leading their team out of the dressing room at the start of a match, participating in the coin toss prior to the kickoff to choose which half of the field to play in, and are the first player to hoist the trophy won by the team.

They break up squabbles between sides, act as their team’s representative when debating against a call, and sometimes referees talk to the captain about settling rowdy teammates.

The more experienced captains rally their team if morale is low. They are the on-pitch leaders and are looked upon to boost team spirits. They also act as a calming influence over younger players. They often have good leadership qualities and can even influence a game.

Unlike in some European countries, Arab captains never join the manager in deciding the starting 11 for matches. That decision lies solely with the coach. In that respect, football captains in this part of the world are largely symbolic.  

As such, it would appear that El-Badry is attaching too much importance to the issue and should focus more on guiding a team which has been going south.

BACKGROUND

El-Badry might cite the case of Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt who became the youngest captain in a European Champions League knockout game when he wore Ajax’s skipper armband at 19 in a game against Real Madrid in February this year.

Egypt did poorly in last year’s World Cup in Russia, failing to win a single point and finishing 31 out of 32 teams. In this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations, hosted by Egypt, the national side again fell short, stopped dead in its tracks in the relatively early round of 16.

Instead of paying so much attention to who should be captain, El-Badry should be more concerned about how to get the team back to winning ways. There is no point in worrying about who is the captain of a sinking ship.

Being the gentleman that he is on and off the pitch, it is highly unlikely that Salah would take over the captaincy in the face of Fathy’s protests. That should quiet things down because it appears El-Badry is seeking to stamp his authority on the team early, even if it means creating a controversy that was wholly unnecessary.

It is believed the decision to make Salah captain is the Football Association of Egypt’s way of making amends with Salah after The Best FIFA Football Awards voting debacle when administration errors rendered their pick of Salah void.

But righting a wrong by creating a hullabaloo that came out of nowhere is not the way to assuage Salah’s feelings.

Fathy is 34. Sooner or later, Salah, who is only 27, will wear the captain’s armband. The problem is, that coronation might come sooner than expected. Salah is due to return to international duty next month for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Kenya and away to Comoros.


Police want Liverpool title decider in neutral stadium

Updated 43 min 52 sec ago

Police want Liverpool title decider in neutral stadium

  • The move aims to prevent fans from gathering outside when the competition resumes

MANCHESTER, England: Liverpool might not win the English Premier League at Anfield after police included the leader’s key games among at least five it wants at neutral venues in a bid to prevent fans from gathering outside when the competition resumes.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp hopes authorities will allow them to play at home as planned, with supporters adhering to advice while they are prevented from attending games due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Police originally wanted neutral venues for all 92 remaining games but the plan was opposed by the clubs — particularly those trying to avoid relegation.
The league plans to resume on June 17 after a 100-day shutdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic, pending final approval from government, which is trying to prevent a second spike in cases.
Police don’t object to the games on that Wednesday night being played at Manchester City and Aston Villa.
But police want the derby between Everton and Liverpool to be played away from Merseyside a few days later. The game was originally scheduled at Goodison Park. Liverpool, which leads by 25 points with nine games remaining, could clinch the title by beating Everton if second-placed City loses to Arsenal on June 17.
If the 30-year title drought doesn’t end that day, police want Liverpool’s next game, against Crystal Palace, to be played away from Anfield.
Greater Manchester Police have already determined Liverpool’s third game back against Manchester City should be staged away from Etihad Stadium.
Liverpool’s fourth game back is against Aston Villa, currently scheduled at Anfield.
The same Manchester force wants City’s game against Newcastle and Manchester United’s home game against Sheffield United played outside of the northwest location.
Police in Newcastle also don’t want the home game against Liverpool to be played at St. James’ Park on the final day of the season, which could be July 26.
Mark Roberts, the head of football policing in England, said the plans will remain under review but are based on public health demands.
“We have reached a consensus that balances the needs of football, while also minimizing the demand on policing,” said Roberts, the football policing lead at the National Police Chiefs’ Council. “The views and agreement of forces which host Premier League clubs have been sought and where there were concerns, the Premier League has been supportive in providing flexibility in arranging alternative venues where requested.”
One obvious neutral venue is Wembley Stadium in north London which is not the home of any club side.
“This plan will be kept continually under review to ensure public health and safety and a key part of this is for supporters to continue to respect the social distancing guidelines, and not to attend or gather outside the stadiums,” Roberts said.
Even without a vaccine for COVID-19, fans could return to games next season, which is due to begin in September.
“There is optimism at the Premier League and at clubs that we will see fans back in the stadiums next season,” Premier League chief executive Richard Masters told Sky Sports TV, “and it may happen on a phased basis.”
Only 200 of the 380 Premier League games each season are contracted to be broadcast live in Britain, but all remaining fixtures will be aired live because fans will not be allowed in stadiums.
The reshaped English season is set to end with the FA Cup final on Aug. 1.
The Football Association on Friday announced its competition will provisionally resume with the quarterfinals on the weekend of June 27-28. The semifinals are now scheduled for July 18-19.
“This has been a difficult period for many people and, while this is a positive step, the restart date is dependent on all safety measures being met,” FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said.
Though the COVID-19 deaths per day have fallen in Britain since early April, another 377 were still reported on Thursday, bringing the known death toll in all settings including hospitals and care homes to 37,837.