Whether you like it or not, our region breathes football. Some footballers have repeatedly made history on both local and international scenes and with most major leagues back after the Euro’s and a lengthy summer break, it’s time for us to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about some of the region’s most iconic athletes.
Let’s face the stats. Players like Mahrez, Salah, or even Hakimi lately, have run down the lanes of some of the world’s most legendary stadiums while also breaking all sorts of records at the same time. But where do they all get it from?
To celebrate the return of championship football, we’ve gathered 7 Arab players that have elevated the game, and that have made the region ever-so proud through time.
Rapid and agile, Mustapha Hadji is a player that many grew up watching. His time playing for English sides like Coventry and Aston Villa is one that the Premier League will not be ready to forget as his partnership with Youssef Chippo, caused fans to show up to games with Fezzes as a playful tribute to the Morocco pair. Now assistant manager of Morocco’s national team, Hadji, who was once awarded the title of Best African Player of The Year in 1998, seems to have football DNA run through his veins as his younger brother Youssouf also played professionally and made their surname an unmissable one in the region’s rich football scene.
Essam El Hadary
Not many goalkeepers manage to make a name for themselves. Often hidden from the spotlight by almost-worshipped strikers, Essam El Hadary is one of Egypt’s anchor players that marked a whole generation. Nicknamed “High Dam”, the goalie is one of the country’s most decorated, having put his hands on eight Egyptian Premier League titles, four Egypt Cups, four Egyptian Super Cups, four CAF Champions League titles, to mention just a few. Oldest player to have played in a World Cup match at the age of 45, the now retired star also transitioned into management and coaching offering his invaluable expertise to a younger generation that can only look up to such a qualitative career.
The former Algerian player rose to fame in the 1980s having eponymously been credited with his own signature trick: The Madjer Backheel. Arguably one of the toughest and finest skills you can pull out on a pitch, Madjer is also widely regarded as one the region’s best players that many still struggle to compete with. Having played in several clubs across Europe and having had stellar spells with most of them, his achievement in walking Algeria to its first World Cup participation in 1982 is one that many of the old generation might still remember to this day.
A family favourite, also part of the Algerian 1982 squad that went to their first participation in the World Cup, he is widely recognised for his time spent in the French capital club PSG while also holding his name high in the table of records. As one of the few Arabs that stood out in France during his time, his imprint on a whole era of football is more than just remarkable.
Considered as one of the best of the best, Aboutrika’s flair is one that helped Egypt reach new summits. Holder of the African Nations Cup as well as a bronze medal with Al Ahly in the FIFA Club World Cup of 2006, Aboutrika’s success in his domestic league comes as no surprise considering the daunting 156 goals scored during his time at his boyhood club.
You know it by now, Egyptians take football seriously and don’t seem to mess around. Another player from the land of the Pharaohs, he is one of Egypt’s most efficient goalscorers with 69 goals in 169 appearances and one of Ahly’s most decorated, winning 25 titles with the club. After a quarter of a decade-long career, he theorised his talent to start managing different teams like Al-Masry, Itesalat or Zam soon after retirement.
Can we even make a round-up of iconic Arab players without mentioning the mighty Mohammed Salah? The current Liverpool star has been making Egypt proud season in and out, boasting his way through the league’s top records while snatching every single collective and individual prize. Adulated in the region, the Arab world may not agree on much but there definitely is consensus surrounding The Egyptian’s talent. Unsure as to how long we’ll be able to witness his skills on the pitch, but we sure do hope that it’s for the longest possible.
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