Former Egypt forward reflects on his long and varied career, offers his thoughts on the current players flying the flag for Arab football, and his plans for the future
Mido interview: 'No regrets' from an eventful career as focus turns to a future in the dugout
Ask Mido if he has any regrets from a playing career that delivered much but still promised more, and the answer is immediate. It is accompanied by a wide smile, too.
“No, no regrets,” he says, chuckling. “Never.”
On the surface, it is easy to see why. As a footballer of significant ability, the Egyptian played for, among others, Ajax, Celta Vigo, Marseille, Roma, Tottenham Hotspur and boyhood club Zamalek.
He represented his national team 51 times, scoring 20 goals. He was part of the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations-winning side, although he did not contest the final having been involved in a pitchside argument with manager Hassan Shehata in the last-four clash against Senegal.
In club football, Mido led a somewhat nomadic existence, seemingly perpetually on the move, a striker with obvious gifts but presented sporadically at various destinations across Europe.
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During a three-year stint at Middlesbrough from 2007, Mido was loaned to Wigan Athletic, West Ham United, Zamalek and Ajax. In all, he had 11 clubs in 14 years, spanning seven countries. There were injuries and disciplinary issues. Eventually, he retired in 2013, aged 30.
Alongside the Afcon triumph with Egypt, Mido enjoyed other success, most notably early on at Ajax, when he helped the club to a first Eredivisie title in four years in the 2001/02 campaign, part of that season's league and cup double. Later that year, he was voted Africa's best young footballer.
“I think could have been better and could have been worse,” says Mido with another laugh, having been in Dubai last week to launch a new season at du Football Champions. “But I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’ve played for some great clubs, had very good relationships with my teammates and made very good friends until now. And I think this is the most important thing about football: to build relationships and to have friends through your career."
Even still, there have been plenty of highlights.
“Some good memories," he says. "When we won the African Cup [of Nations] in 2006; when we won the league with Ajax after four years that Ajax didn’t win it; when we won the cup with Ajax; when we qualified to the Champions League with Celta Vigo for the only time in their history; when I signed for a big club like Tottenham. A lot of very, very important things. A lot of good things.”
By his own admission, Mido could be a difficult player to handle at times, predominantly in his formative years as a professional. As a football fan and now a regular pundit on television, he has watched with interest the emergence of Arab talents in the Premier League, with Riyad Mahrez and Mohamed Salah's craft and commitment to that elevating them to recent winners of the PFA player of the year.
There are perceived contrasts between the current era and that which Mido played through, although there are mitigating factors.
“I think it’s a little bit unfair to say that the Arab players before were not professional enough,” says Mido, who left Egypt for Belgium's Gent when he was only 17. “But they have different mentality. You cannot get someone who has been raised in a totally different culture to react the same way as an English boy, or a Dutch boy, or a German boy would do. It’s different.
“But the players who are playing now, in my opinion they are more focused on their game. Now football is different, with social media and the attention around the game. They take good care of themselves. I wish we had this attention when I was playing. I remember when I scored a goal in Europe it was written in Egypt two days after. So it’s different. We were a bit isolated.”
Now he is intent on helping nurture talent. Having completed his B and C coaching badges at the respected Football Association of Wales – on 1998 World Cup winner Marcel Desailly’s recommendation – Mido is working through the A license, together with a Masters in football coaching at the University of South Wales.
Having already managed, albeit briefly, three clubs in his native Egypt dating back to 2014, including Zamalek twice, a life in the dugout clearly appeals. But Mido believes a lengthy career on one side of the touchline does not necessarily guarantee an extended career on the other.
“I’m taking good care of my education, because I don’t think your playing experience is enough,” says the former forward, 35, who apparently turned down an offer to join Javier Aguirre with the Egypt national team. “I think education is very important.
“I’ve already managed Zamalek and Esmaily. I’m looking to try to get a good opportunity to come into Europe, even an assistant for a good manager. I don’t know. I will get my badges done first and then see where it goes.”