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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Sam Morsy interview: 'It means so much to the people of Egypt to finally get to the World Cup'

Born in Wolverhampton, the Wigan Athletic midfielder, 26, is reconnecting with his father's homeland: 'The fans are surreal there'

Sam Morsy, right, is likely to begin the tournament understudying the Egypt holding midfielders Mohamed Elneny and Tarek Hamed, but Cuper could call upon his combative qualities. Marco Bertorello / AFP
Sam Morsy, right, is likely to begin the tournament understudying the Egypt holding midfielders Mohamed Elneny and Tarek Hamed, but Cuper could call upon his combative qualities. Marco Bertorello / AFP

The words are spoken in a soft Black Country accent, but the subject of Sam Morsy’s enthusiasm is his father’s homeland, some 2,500 miles from his Wolverhampton birthplace. The 26 year old has dual identities: as the journeyman professional from England’s lower leagues, captain of the Wigan Athletic side who won promotion to the Championship, and as member of an Egypt squad who are hailed as heroes in their corner of Africa and who are making national history.

His last competitive match was in Doncaster. His next could be in Yekaterinburg, against Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Uruguay, on Friday. They are worlds apart. Playing international football has broadened his horizons. “It has been an eye-opening experience for me and something I wouldn’t have experienced if I hadn’t played for Egypt,” he said.

“The fans are surreal there. They love their football more than you can imagine. I wouldn’t say you wouldn’t associate Egypt with football but you wouldn’t think the fans are as mad for football. They are there for the training sessions. It is a full house for the games. The atmosphere is incredible.”

Wigan’s average attendance last season was 9,152. There were 75,000 delirious souls at the Borg El Arab Stadium when Mohamed Salah scored the injury-time winner against Congo to send Egypt to a first World Cup since 1990. “It has been such a long time,” Morsy said.

It was the year before his birth. His father, Mekawy, had moved to England at 22. His is an immigrant tale, a man who made a successful life in a new land. His son, Sam, played for Chesterfield and Port Vale before joining Wigan. All the while, and seemingly incongruously, Egypt tracked his progress. The defensive midfielder debuted for them in 2016, to the delight of the relatives his father left behind.

“It is a big family in Egypt,” he explained: “All my dad’s side: cousins, aunties, uncles. They are really proud. I am the first person in the family to represent Egypt. When I come they have big Egypt banners and flags. It is like a dream for them. The culture is very different for them. When I see my cousins, they say ‘this is our dream’ and I genuinely believe that.”

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It helps Morsy connect. By his own admission, his Arabic is limited, though he is taking lessons. It helps that manager Hector Cuper also speaks some English. Teammates have been welcoming, too. It has all piqued an interest to play in the Middle East at some stage. He has attracted attention from clubs. The region will be particularly focused on a local derby in Volgograd on June 25.

“Saudi Arabia and Egypt economically really get on well so it will be a good game for the Middle East,” Morsy added. “It will be a good rivalry but friendly rivalry.” He is likely to begin the tournament understudying the holding midfielders Mohamed Elneny and Tarek Hamed, but Cuper could call upon his combative qualities.

Group A affords an opportunity. Certainly there is the hope Egypt can prolong their participation. “I think it is a good group for us,” Morsy said. “In the World Cup, you are always going to get one top, top team. Obviously Uruguay have got top, top strikers but it is a group we can get out of.

“It means so much to the people to finally get to the World Cup that you have to enjoy it and we want to get as far as we can. You see Leicester winning the Premier League, Greece winning the [2004] Euros: in football anything can happen. That is the beauty of it.” It is not only Morsy’s Egyptian relatives who are daring to dream.