Johannesburg – On October 17, Mohamed Aboutrika (@aboutrikamoham1) sent out a tweet: “Win the African Champions League with Al Ahly, God willing, and the World Club Championships in Morocco, and football goodbye and thank you to all.”
With his 35th birthday arriving next week, Egyptian football’s famous No 22 and one of the greatest to grace the continental game has decided, once and for all, to hang up his boots.
There are Europhiles who may not have heard of Aboutrika. That is their loss. At the peak of his powers, at the heart of Egypt’s African Nations Cup triumphs in 2006 and 2008, this skilful attacker, with a killer pass and an eye for goal, could have followed the career trajectory of most African stars, and gone to play in Europe. Instead, he chose to stay at his hometown club Al Ahly, powerhouses of the continental game.
Pirates will hope to bring Aboutrika’s club career to an abrupt end over the next eight days, as they take on Ahly over two legs of the Champions League final, the first leg in Orlando on Saturday night, and the second in Cairo on November 10. Either way, this is a fantastic chance to watch some of the last acts of a great player.
It is no little miracle we will be watching him at all. On February 1, 2012, a tragedy befell Egyptian football, and Al Ahly in particular, that drove Aboutrika, as it turned out temporarily, to give up the game.
In a league game against Al Masry at Port Said stadium, over 70 Al Ahly supporters were killed and many more injured in a crowd riot. The gates of the stadium were locked and the police were reported to have done nothing. Many suggested that this horrific incident was retaliation against Al Ahly’s “Ultras’ (a supporters group) involvement in the uprising against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian domestic league was cancelled, and that seemed to be it for Aboutrika. Ultimately, however, he decided he would play again for Al Ahly in the African Champions League, and for the Egyptian national team.
Amazingly, despite having no domestic football, Ahly went on to take last season’s Champions League, beating Esperance of Tunis in the final, the fourth time Aboutrika has picked up a winner’s medal.
As a fantastic piece by Grant Wahl for Sports Illustrated documents, Aboutrika also starred for Bob Bradley’s Egypt, as they romped through World Cup qualifying, winning all six of their matches. Aboutrika’s dream of playing in the World Cup in Brazil, however, was all but ended last month as Ghana thrashed the Pharaohs 6-1 in the first leg of their final play-off.
So finishing with more club honours is what Aboutrika must target and he has again helped Al Ahly into the Champions League final this year, despite their domestic calendar again being cancelled.
Aboutrika scored in both clashes with Cairo rivals Zamalek in the group stages, and grabbed a vital away goal in Cameroon in a 1-1 draw with CotonSport Garoua in the first leg of the semi-final. Pirates contained Aboutrika pretty well in the group stages, as Al Ahly failed to score a goal against them. Now they must hope Aboutrika cannot find a glorious send off to a tournament he and his side have dominated.
Date of Birth: November 7, 1978
With Egypt: African Nations Cup winner 2006, 2008
With Al Ahly: African Champions League winner 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012
Personal: 2008 BBC African Footballer of the Year; Winner of Caf’s Africa-based Player of the Year award in 2008 and 2012