Anderlecht’s long unbeaten run in this season’s Belgian League was brought to an end in March by the boot of an 18-year-old Egyptian, Ahmed Hossam, the latest teenage sensation to emerge from Africa.
Hossam, a junior star at Zamalek, is now a regular in both the first team of his club side, Gent, and the Egyptian national team.
He made his international bow in January, when still just 17, scoring on his debut in a friendly against the United Arab Emirates.
Since then, national team coach Mahmoud Al-Gohari has kept faith in him and has been rewarded by Hossam’s brilliant performances in key World Cup qualifiers. The youngster excelled against Morocco in January and the next month ran his socks off as Egypt conjured up a last-minute equaliser to avoid an embarrassing defeat in Namibia.
Hossam now forms a rather unlikely partnership with a man almost old enough to be his father, Hossam Hassan. The world’s most-capped player, with 156 appearances, has been a steadying influence during his young strike partner’s international baptism.
‘Hossam Hassan just told me to concentrate on the game and ignore what was going on in the crowd,’ says Hossam as he recalls walking out to face 80,000 fans in Cairo for the Morocco game. ‘But it all just served to motivate me.’
It was a far cry from the junior section at Zamalek, where Hossam spent his formative years and dreamed of becoming an Arabian Marco Van Basten. Another Dutchman, Ruud Krol, had him training with the Zamalek first team at 15, but Belgian agent Roger Henrotay spotted him and took him to Gent.
However, Hossam had problems adapting to the cold weather and the alien culture. He even packed his bags ready to return home in October, but his father, the former international Hossam Hossam, persuaded him to stay. Hossam senior then joined his son in Gent, where the club found him a job as a groundsman.
With Ahmed by now more settled, Gent’s new coach, Patrick Remy, put him into the first-team attack, and a few short months and eight League goals later, there is a different story to tell. The Belgians call him ‘Prins van het Ottenstadion’ (Prince of the Otten stadium), while Anderlecht have already expressed an interest in signing him.
The Egyptians see Hossam as a possible ticket to the World Cup finals next year. ‘That’s my biggest dream, to play with Egypt in a World Cup,’ he says. He could be on to something there. Mark Gleeson
Club Gent (Blg)
Born February 23, 1983, in Cairo Previous club Zamalek
International debut January 2001, v United Arab Emirates
International caps 6 (1 goal)