x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Egypt prove African strength

The team's performance in a friendly against England suggest football is making progress on the continent.

After watching the friendly on Wednesday, Andrew Cole thinks the future is bright for Egyptian football, but as an Englishman, England's fortunes are of greater concern to him.
After watching the friendly on Wednesday, Andrew Cole thinks the future is bright for Egyptian football, but as an Englishman, England's fortunes are of greater concern to him.

I watched England beat Egypt 3-1 at Wembley on Wednesday and was hugely impressed by the Egyptians. They acquitted themselves very well in the first-half and played a fine passing game, using those neat triangles, like a top European country. I don't want to sound patronising because I know Egypt are ranked 17th in the world, I know they won the African Nations Cup again in January and that they are the highest-ranked country not to be going to South Africa.

I was in Africa again last week and even the Nigerians told me that Egypt's domestic league is probably the strongest in the continent and their clubs regularly win the African Champions League. I think the future is bright for Egyptian football, but, as an Englishman, England's fortunes are of greater concern to me. It was a good test for England because the Three Lions are in the same World Cup group as Algeria, who knocked Egypt out to qualify for South Africa in two controversial play-off games. After seeing the strength of Egypt, every England player will be taking Algeria very seriously in June.

African football is getting stronger all the time. Pele was a bit optimistic when said that he envisaged an African team winning the World Cup by 2000, but I can see where he was coming from and I can see sides like Ivory Coast reaching the last eight of the finals. The top African players are now among the best players in the world and their experience in club football benefits their countrymen. Their countries are employing top (usually European) coaches and they play like top Premier League sides - athletic and physical. They are the two attributes which managers like Arsene Wenger look for when they buy African players.

Peter Crouch will be delighted with his two second-half goals. England don't have the quality of players like Spain to dominate against the best teams so they need the option of a long ball to target men like Crouch. Even with such an option, I can't see England winning the World Cup. I don't think I'm being defeatist, just realistic. Brazil and Spain are at a far higher level than England. I watched Brazil against Ireland on Tuesday, when they coasted along in the first-half before upping their game in the second. They won 2-1, but it could have been five.

The British and Irish press put a negative spin on the game, saying that Brazil look weak when attacked. Don't every team? Brazil's strength has never been in their defence, but they are awesome up front, so good that they can toy with opponents. Robinho looked like a man enjoying life again against Ireland. He's playing every week with Santos, his first club and love, and they are top of their State Championship. He was really good, as was Kaka - both excellent enough to be match-winners in key World Cup matches.

Closer to my home in Manchester is the story about Manchester United fans protesting against the Glazer family who own the club. I've been impressed with all the fans wearing green and gold scarves to protest - I might even buy one myself. Supporters have every right to demonstrate they are not happy, and United fans are doing that. Their season-tickets have shot up in price since the takeover in 2005 and they are worried about the huge debts. The fans are the club because if they don't turn up, the Glazers are snookered.

But there are so many ups and downs in football. Some fans are only concerned about what happens on the pitch. Others hate whoever is in charge of the club and are never content. A lot of United fans were not happy with the chairman Martin Edwards when I played at Old Trafford, whereas I thought he did an excellent job. He kept all the players happy, which is important at any club. I've come across plenty of rogues in football and he wasn't one of them.

People ask why none of the players are saying anything about the current protests. So as long as they are getting paid on time, they are unlikely to speak out against the people who own the club. The players will concentrate on what they know best, playing football. That's not to say that they have their heads in the sand about what's going on outside, but I don't think it's a good idea for players to start talking about off-the-field issues.

They were signed by United to play football, win games and trophies - and that's what they do. They won the Carling Cup last week and are doing very well in the league and the Champions League. It would be dangerous for them to be drawn into talk about who should own the club and to criticise those who pay their wages. @Email:sports@thenational.ae