The 2018 summer transfer window has seen some major moves in football.
Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Juventus, Riyad Mahrez to Manchester City and Malcom was snatched by Barcelona after agreeing terms with Roma. The biggest spenders’ list is full with the regular European teams from the Premier League and La Liga, with millions of dollars behind of them. Though, one member in that list comes from a different part of the world: Egypt. This team called Pyramides FC, and it has one of the most extravagant football stories of the year.
So, how can an Egyptian team spend more than AC Milan, Marseille, Porto and various Chinese clubs? Besides being an African expenditure record, the 33 million Euros the Pyramids club had invested in building a squad from scratch - signing 23 (!) new players - are rocking the Egyptian football reality. As usual in Egypt, it always has much more than football in it.
A Pyramid built on Al Assiouty’s remains
Pyramids FC is a new club that was founded on the structure of Al Assiouty Sport, a club from Beni Souef originally, that was established in 2008, played in the 2nd division and in 2014 was promoted to the Egyptian Premier League. Al Assiouty was never a serious a power in Egyptian football, a scenario that basically is laying on the two Cairo based mega clubs - Al Ahly & Zamalek, one important club in Port Said - Al-Masry, and a few small clubs that mainly grow local talent - such as El-Mokaweloon Al-Arab & Smouha. After the club was bought by Saudi Billionaire Turki al-Sheikh, the head of Saudi football and one of the most powerful figures in Asian & Middle Eastern football, Al-Assiouty kept its assets but has gone through some changes. Massive changes.
They moved to Cairo and set their home at the 30th of June 30,000 seat stadium. In addition, the club’s name was changed to Pyramids FC - a name with much more global branding potential. The logo was changed, as well as the colours adding the club a much more prestigious characteristic. The launching of the new football entity in the Egyptian reality included a series of videos and advertisement tricks setting the stage for its entering the Middle Eastern & African football sphere. The buzz was created, and then, they started to announce their new signings.
23 new players have signed for the up & coming new club, but unlike normal transfers in Egyptian football, a major part of the Pyramids’ purchases are coming from the world’s most popular market - Brazil. Carlos Eduardo from Goias, Ribamar from Atletico Paranaense and Arthur from Chapecoense all arrived in transfers worth 2.2-5.2 million euros, but the two notable ones were Keno, Palmeiras midfielder that arrived for 8.6 million and Rodriguinho - Cotinthians’ attacking midfielder, who was on the shortlist for Brazil 2018 World Cup squad. No other Egyptian club have ever made such moves in the Brazilian market. In addition, the Egyptian national team full-back Omar Gaber that joined from Los Angeles Galaxy, the German-Ukranian-Palestinian forward Danny Schahin has signed from Dutch side Roda and the Syrian national team promising defender, Omar Al-Medani, has signed from the Emirati team of Nadi Hatta.
But Al-Sheikh did not stop in Brazil in setting a new benchmark for the Egyptian transfers market. The young Saudi went on a raid grabbing everything he can from the local league sources, most notably Zamalek’s players Ahmed Tawfiq & Ali Gabr, as well as promising names from all over the league - Mohamed Farouk came from El-Mokaweloon, Abdoullah Bakry from Smouha, Mohamed Magdy Afsha from ENPPI, as well as other players from Petrojet, El-Dakhleia, El-Marrikh, Tanta, Ismaily & Al-Masry.
Signing new players is important, though building the managerial and administrative structure of a club is the most important thing in professional football. Therefore, al-Sheikh did not compromise on this subject too. Former Al-Ahly manager, Hossam Al-Badry was hired as the club’s chairman and superior professional and organisational authority; former Al-Ahly, Zamalek, Anderlecht and most capped international footballer, Ahmed Hassan signed as the spokesman and football team supervisor; former Al-Ahly’s defender, Hady Khashaba was hired as the new football director; and in order to gather all these new faces from Egypt and Brazil into a proper football team, Alberto Valentim, former Botafogo coach and one of the most promising football coaches in Brazil, took the charge as a head coach. The person who will help and council this whole team is Argentinean veteran coach, Ricardo La Volpe, who had worked in Boca Juniors, Mexico and more.
“Pyramids is a professional football club and venue that will set new standards in Egypt”, Hossam Al-Badry told BabaGol in a phone call from Cairo. “The idea is to use the wealth & talent in Egypt through our marvellous young people. The investors of the project are looking to use Egypt's resources for Egypt's benefit and creating a professional football stage in international levels," he added.
Is the reason for this massive investment is genuinely for improving Egyptian football? It might be part of the case, but not all of it. In the heart of the foundation of the aspiring project of the Pyramids, there is a story of respect, political revenge that shows many of the problems in the Egyptian game, and to put the spotlight on one important man - Turki al-Sheikh.
It’s Turki Against the World
It’s almost two years since Turki al-Sheikh has entered the Middle Eastern football world in storm. Since then, he is changing many things. He improved the professional level of the Saudi league, he opened the stadiums in Saudi for women in part of the games and he invested and planned many programs for developing football in the whole region.
On the same time, al-Sheikh was the architect for few controversial stories in football in the past year. He was the one who sent 10 Saudi players to Spanish clubs in a program that failed to improve the Saudi national team for the World Cup; he was the guy that pushed Bolivian coach Julio Baldivieso to the Palestinian national team and somehow convinced FIFA to hold an out of blue Gulf Cup in Kuwait, despite the country was still on probation after the governmental intervention in football. All in all, al-Sheikh is definitely a young and innovative figure in the regional football scenario that erupts changes & reforms and has his own independent ideas & agenda over world football, that in many cases can be seen as refreshing and positive.
Though, his trigger to start the project in Egypt came from a different angle. “Last year, Al-Ahly, Egypt’s most famous and decorated football club was drowning in debts”, explains one of the club most notable and active Ahlawys (Al-Ahly) fans, who preferred to remain anonymous. “Al-Ahly, as a 111-year-old institution has already coped with such situations in the past. The club board, that is elected every four years, usually handled every crisis within the clubhouse walls. This time, the corruption was so deep & complicated that they had to look for an external solution”, he concluded.
According to club sources and various Egyptian journalists, the board got in touch with Turki al-Sheikh, who expressed his appreciation for the club in different occasions in the past, in order to receive his financial support that would save the board from losing control on the club’ situation. Al-Sheikh agreed, and in favour of his donation asked to become the club’s honorary president.
Mahmoud El-Khatib, Al-Ahly chairman approved the move, and immediately began to discuss with al-Sheikh future transfers that they needed to complete. Things seemed to go the positive way, as al-Sheikh persuaded Argentinean coach Ramon Diaz for the Al-Ahly position, but eventually, by reports, arranged him a contract in Saudi club Ittihad Jeddah. Al-Ahly fans were furious and began to protest against al-Sheikh activity within the club. The fact he is a Saudi, a foreigner, only ignited the ‘flames’.
The protests got bigger and al-Sheikh has decided to leave as he “didn’t want to stay in a place he is not wanted”. Al-Sheikh claimed that he supported Al-Ahly & El-Khatib with more than 260 million EGP (around 13 million Euros) during his time in the club. Two weeks after he made the move for Al-Assiouty Sport, bought the club and began its ultra-modern revolution at it. In addition, he then filed a lawsuit against Al-Ahly, requesting that they will return the money of his investment in the club. “I was keen on making Al Ahly and their fans my top priorities and I followed their worries and ambitions with much interest,” al-Sheikh wrote on his Facebook page. “But I am disappointed by the disrespectful way people have treated me here, despite my efforts to help”, he pointed.
The Ahlawyies were sure that al-Sheikh will do everything to ruin Al-Ahly, on the pitch and in court. Though a week prior the League’s opening, he decided surprisingly to revoke the prosecution. “Everyone has been forgiven. I have been attacked by some of the masses and media, but I confirm my appreciation and respect to all Al-Ahly fans,” al-Sheikh said in remarks to the LTC on a program called ‘Al-Kora fi Baladna’.
The Race for the Title
The 2018/19 season in Egypt kicks off today with a new dawn, and a new story. Zamalek’s continuous decline under president Mortada Mansour in recent years has created a huge vacuum in the top spots of Egyptian football, a hole that is about to be filled with al-Sheikh’s Pyramids project, with its exciting signings and technical staff.
The Pyramides is an aspiring project and the story behind it shed light on the way things are running in Egyptian football. Respect, regional politics, corruption and money are part of the scene, making all the set up for a football much even more intense.
The Egyptian fans will try to get use to the idea of a completely artificial club at their highly traditional scenario, and Turki al-Sheikh, whether admit it or not, will look for his silent revenge at everyone who underestimated him in order to call this soft power saga off. Now the saga will be played on the field.