The Premier League has had its fair share of foreign mavericks over the last 20 years, as the combination of silly wages, huge expectations, cultural incongruity, media scrutiny, the weather and issues with our national cuisine has resulted in some marvellous (and some shocking) players, briefly shining before going a bit loco and leaving under bizarre circumstances. (See Tino Asprilla, Mario Jardel, Nii Lamptey, Andre Silenzi, George Weah, Marco Boogers… et al)
It’s safe to say Egypt is one footballing nation that hasn’t set the Premier League alight with a number of doomed spells from various players. However if you cast your mind back to autumn 2008, one man at Wigan was the talk of European football.
Amr Zaki arrived at Wigan on a year long loan in 2008 to little fanfare for £1.5 million and hit the ground running scoring 5 times in his first six appearances. Wigan chairman Dave Whelan was smitten with his bargain and went so far as to compare Zaki’s bullish frame and eye for goal to that of Premier League legend Alan Shearer.
However it was a brace at Anfield on October 18th as Liverpool were eventually won 3-2 that set tongues wagging across Europe. After slotting a neat first, Zaki netted a second with an outrageous acrobatic volley, firing the ball back across Reina into the bottom right corner having dived backwards to connect with the cross with a scissor kick.
By new years day 2009, Zaki had racked up 11 goals in 18 starts for the Lancashire club and rumours were rife that he was to be subject to a shock £16 million bid from Real Madrid, with Liverpool, Man City and Lyon also sniffing around the powerful forward.
However this was to be the crest of the wave for Zaki and his brief fling with English football as the goals dried up and Steve Bruce bit off more than he could chew when he added Mido to his squad in the January window. This sparked a series of bizarre bust ups between the two bulky Egyptian forwards for club and country as they bitched about losing their place to one another in the media and accused each other of spreading lies.
Bruce’s patience with his Zaki however finally broke when he returned home late from international duty for the fourth time that season, following a game against Zambia. Bruce had defended his man all season but over his lax timekeeping abilities however this was the final straw. It since transpired Zaki was AWOL celebrating his 26th birthday whilst the Egypt team doctor faxed Wigan reporting that he had a hamstring injury but with no accompanying proof, leading Bruce to publicly brand Zaki “the most unprofessional player he has ever worked with”
Zaki returned to Egypt in the summer of 2009 but was soon confirming the damming words of Bruce, when he shocked the football world by ruling out a potential move to Premiership strugglers Portsmouth on grounds of race. Following an initial approach, Zaki poured cold water on the potential transfer by stating on his personal website, “After Portsmouth signed an Israeli player and also hired an Israeli football director a possible move was ruled out. On top of that, no way could I play at Portsmouth with an Algerian within in their ranks.”
Referring to Tal Ben Haim, Avram Grant and Nadir Belhadj, the comments received widespread condemnation from the international footballing community.
However, despite this Zaki found himself back on these shores soon enough in 2010 with a half a season long loan at Hull City as he looked to clear his name, stating that “I want to prove that I am a good player but also a good man”. However before long the Egyptian’s unique brand of PR had come to the fore again as he unwittingly barked, “If an offer from a decent club does not come up by the end of my time at Hull I will return to Zamalek”
Whilst merely verbalising what everyone else was thinking – Hull in 2010 were a truly dreadful team – it hardly challenged the perception that Zaki was a manager’s nightmare. 0 goals in 6 appearances told its own story as the Tigers were relegated and Zaki was ushered back to Zamalek sharpish.
After a serious knee injury kept him out of the game for 10 months, Zaki has returned to fitness and two weeks ago – under the tutelage of Hassan Shehata, the manager who delivered Egypt’s hat trick of African Cup of Nations – fired Zamalek into the Egyptian Cup final with two goals, the second an astonishing solo effort showcasing his bruising strength and finishing.
So what next for the man known as ‘Bulldozer’? At 28, with 2 African Cup of Nations winners medals and a 1 in 2 international strike rate, I would be extremely surprised if Zaki doesn’t pop up in Europe again before retiring. A proven goal scorer as well as a proven headache for managers, he is a man whose career is rarely dull, but is anyone daft enough to take the gamble on him? A quick glance at the ‘colourful’ careers of the likes of Joey Barton and Craig Bellamy and it seems the answer is probably yes. Managers love to feed their own ego and believe they can tame a wild one numerous others have failed with, often to their sides detriment. Now I wonder if Zaki has Twitter…
What do you make of the man? Would you have your club take a gamble on him or is his simply more bother than he’s worth?
Give us your thoughts.
Written by Pete Starr.
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