x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

High-flying Fawzi focused on Baniyas' future

The midfielder has risen to prominence along with a batch of promising youngsters at the Pro League's surprise package.

Mohammed Fawzi, right, has impressed for second-placed Baniyas this season.
Mohammed Fawzi, right, has impressed for second-placed Baniyas this season.

The history of the Baniyas Sports and Culture Club is not one wreathed in success. Founded in 1981, their one prominent achievement in three decades of football was winning the President's Cup in 1992.

For the next 17 years, the club bounced between the top flight and the second division. Then came the 2009/10 season, when Baniyas finished a surprising fourth and narrowly missed their first berth in the Asian Champions League.

Now, they seem primed for their best finish yet in the Pro League. As the halfway point of the season arrives tonight, Baniyas are a clear second and only two points behind Al Jazira at the top of the table.

The successes they have had so far are because of the abundance of youth players who have turned out for them, a majority of whom represented the country in various age-group competitions.

Four of those players are now selected for the senior national team going to the Asian Cup in Qatar from January 7 to 27.

One of the prominent youngsters in the squad is Mohammed Fawzi, a summer signing from Al Ahli on a five-year contract. Fawzi, only 20, plays in the midfield and can also be used as a utility player; he is sound in both attack and defence.

"I moved to Baniyas because I would get a regular place in the line-up and also I had several of my teammates from the youth national team," he said. "Ahli had too many players and I didn't want to spend my best days on the bench. So it was an easy decision.

"I think I made the right move because Baniyas are a team with great potential. They don't have big names but they have some of the best young players in the country. Even the foreign players they have are young and they mix well with the rest of the squad."

Baniyas have five victories in five home matches, including a 2-1 triumph on Sunday over champions Al Wahda. They also have away victories over solid clubs such as Sharjah and Al Shabab. The only blemishes on their record are a 2-1 defeat away to Al Wasl and a 4-0 drubbing away to Jazira.

Despite their clear involvement in a championship chase, Fawzi said the team remain serene.

"There is no pressure on us to win the league this season," he said. "If we can't win this season, I think we will in the next year or the year after."

For Fawzi, every year has brought a new achievement as he surpasses what previously was the most significant moment in his career.

The first step was when he was selected for the Under 16 national team for the Gulf Cup in which they became champions in Saudi Arabia in 2006. On his return, he was picked for the first team of Kalba, his hometown club.

He moved to Ahli on a three-year contract in 2007. While there, he was selected for the youth national team, which won the U19 Asian Cup in 2008, and also played in the U20 World Cup in Egypt, where they reached the last eight.

He then captained the team that won the U23 Gulf Cup in Qatar in August and was a member of the silver-medal team at the Asian Games in China last month.

"It has been a fascinating period in my career," he said.

Going to the Asian Cup will be his biggest thrill yet. "It is the dream of every player to make it to the senior national team," he said. "I can't imagine playing alongside the likes of Ismail Matar, Subait Khater and Majed Naser. As teenagers, we looked up to them as role models."

Fawzi joined the Kalba youth team at the age of eight. At 17, he left for Ahli, where he won a league title, President's Cup and the Super Cup.

He has an older brother, Idrees, 25, playing for Ahli, and a younger brother, 15, playing for Al Wahda's U16 team. He returns to Kalba whenever he has free time.

He said he dedicated his Asian Games silver medal to Yousuf Abdulrahman, his former Kalba and youth national team colleague the goalkeeper, who is still recovering at a German hospital after a serious car crash on September 2.

"We grew up together at Kalba. He was my best friend," said Fawzi, who travelled straight after a match against Al Dhafra to be by his bedside.

"It is not only me; the whole team dedicated the Asian Games medal to him. He was not only a friend but like an older brother to me. He was two years older to me and used to advise me on our careers and look after ourselves as footballers."

Fawzi said the feeling at Baniyas is similar to that of the national age-group teams for which he has played: familiarity and confidence.

"I always think we are the best on the pitch and that positive approach was the key for us in the age-group competitions for the national team," he said. "It is the same approach when I play for Baniyas, and all my teammates have this same positive thinking."

Fawzi will join his Baniyas team and youth colleagues Theyab Awana, Amer Abdulrahman and Yousef Jaber when the national team assembles tomorrow to fly to Oman for a week's camp. Ahead is the Asian Cup and, perhaps, a first Pro League championship for the new kids on the block.

apassela@thenational.ae