x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Hull City dance party never stops with Ahmed Elmohammady

Ahmed Elmohammady helped Hull City get promoted to the Premier League last season and is now playing a vital role in ensuring they do well in their first season back, writes Osman Samiuddin.

Egyptian midfielder Ahmed Elmohamady, left, celebrates with a dance while his Hull City teammates look on after a win at Newcastle United. Ian Macnicol / AFP
Egyptian midfielder Ahmed Elmohamady, left, celebrates with a dance while his Hull City teammates look on after a win at Newcastle United. Ian Macnicol / AFP

The one thing you must not miss is Ahmed Elmohammady’s dance. Last season, as Hull City were watching Watford lose to Leeds United on a day of crazy results – thus sealing Hull’s promotion to the English Premier League – Elmohammady broke out into a joyous, ludicrous dance.

It is difficult to describe, but imagine a gangster breakdancing, except that he was taught by an Egyptian dance instructor. Of course the video went viral and “Elmo”, as he is known, is still recognised on streets because of it.

But it also rightfully placed in the spotlight Elmohammady’s impact in England, a significant development not just on his side, but as one of the few Arab players to really break through.

Operating down the right-hand flank, in attack and defence, he was Hull’s best player in their promotion run and this season has again been noticeable as Hull make an encouraging start in the top flight, nestled in eighth before this weekend’s clash with Aston Villa.

Egyptian footballers have always looked likeliest to make it across Europe, a physical and technical robustness setting them apart. But not many have lasted, and tellingly, one of the first bits of advice that Elmohammady’s manager Steve Bruce gave him was, “Don’t be like Zaki”.

Amr Zaki was a Bruce signing at Wigan Athletic, and though it began with a glut of goals, it ended abruptly, with Bruce calling him one of the most unprofessional players he had ever coached.

Bruce remains an Egyptophile, however, having worked with the striker Mido as well, and it was Bruce who brought Elmohammady to England in 2010, when he was managing Sunderland.

And it is a measure of the respect Elmohammady reserves for Bruce that he agreed to join Hull and move down a division last year.

“He’s a great guy and a very good manager,” Elmohammady said. “He’s the cleverest manager I have worked with. He has improved me as a player and always gives me a lot of advice.

“He’s a very experienced manager who has played at the top level and I’ve really enjoyed playing under him. Even with life away from football he has been a big help.”

It is that aspect, of life away from the pitch for which Elmohammady is particularly thankful, because, as he admits, settling down in that first year took some doing.

“It was a big jump in the standard of football, but it was not that difficult,” he said. “I know how to play football, and sure, the weather is different. But the only thing is you are adjusting to being alone in a new country, where everything is new.

“In Egypt you have friends, family around you and then you are in a different country, alone. It is the best league in the world, and you have to concentrate. The first year for me, on loan to Sunderland, I had to do well and I had to become a permanent player so I just concentrated purely on the football.

“It was a huge thing for me to go beyond that first year, because I want to stay in England and play here. I don’t just want to go and come back after one year like some other players. I want to have a long career here and play at the top level.”

Last month, his wife Heba gave birth to their son Malik. He has settled so well that, last season, he became a guide of sorts for a couple of other Egyptian players brought over by Bruce on loan.

The striker Mohammad “Gedo” Nagy and defender Ahmed Fathi, both from Al Ahly, played critical roles in Hull’s promotion and although Fathi has gone back to Egypt, Hull re-signed Gedo on loan for this season.

“Gedo and Ahmed came last year and because I have been in the country for some time and know my way round, it’s easier for me,” Elmohammady said. “So we were together, we went out together and it was nice to be able to speak to someone in my language. Now Gedo is with me, he is here for another year and he is a very good player, because he has top-level international experience.”

The Egyptian presence is no coincidence, even accounting for Bruce’s preferences. Hull City were bought by Assem Allam, an Egyptian-born local businessman, at the end of 2010. Allam then established links with Al Ahly after the tragedy at the Port Said stadium.

Egypt looms large both in Elmohammady’s past and future. It was his performances in the 2010 African Cup of Nations, which Egypt won, that attracted foreign attention, drawing offers from Russia, Belgium and Dinamo Bucharest.

He was also a member of The Pharaoh’s squad in the 2008 continental triumph and forms the core now of what has been, for some years, their strongest national side. Despite troubles at home and an interrupted league, they stormed through World Cup qualifying, the only side on the continent with a 100 per cent record.

They now face Ghana in a two-legged play-off to confirm their first appearance at the World Cup since 1990, the golden age of the Hassan twins, Hossam and Ibrahim. It will be a remarkable achievement if they make it.

That will be an emotional moment. But then it will be back to more professional pursuits, individual and collective.

“I want to concentrate on playing for a long time in England, and in this league at the top level, because I love it here,” Elmohammady said.

And then, with the kind of confidence glimpsed in his dance: “I think we can finish in the top 10 this season, that is my opinion.”