For rookie Egyptian coach Mido, Zamalek may prove a springboard to a managerial foray into European football the same way it did during his successful playing career. A towering striker whose physical attributes and scoring prowess allowed him to make early inroads into Europe, Mido was a 17-year-old prodigy when he left the Cairo side to join Belgian outfit Gent, embarking on a 13-year playing career that saw him line-up for 11 clubs.
He prematurely called it a day at the age of 30, but he still remained in the spotlight, showing flashes of tactical nous during his brief time as a television pundit, which prompted his boyhood club Zamalek to move for him in a bid to shake off a poor run.
"I was already planning to become a coach after I hung up my boots," Mido, who assumed the Zamalek reins in January, told FIFA.com. "The plan was to spend my first year after retirement as a television pundit while getting the necessary coaching badges." He believes his time in the booth was always bound to help his ambitions on the sideline, even if they came to fruition surprisingly fast.
“I was looking to make the most of the experience of being a football analyst, which gave me the chance to closely monitor managers in Europe and observe their work, such as their tactical choices during games and how they build their squads. Moreover, sitting down with some football legends every week, such as Kevin Keegan, and discussing football with them was hugely beneficial. I was planning to continue doing that for a year, but the Zamalek coincidence changed that.”
For Mido, his early adventures in Europe were pivotal in earning him star status back home. Although his roller-coaster career, which included spells with the likes of Ajax and Tottenham Hotspur, was cut short following fitness problems, it still gave him plenty to draw on, which he believes can take him to the highest level.
“My main target is to coach a high-profile European team," he revealed. "The experience I’m gaining with Zamalek will help me a lot because I’m working in difficult circumstances. If I succeed here amid the pressure we are facing, any coming job will be easier, and that will pave the way for a European stint.
Despite spending little time at Zamalek during two playing spells, including an unfruitful one which came in the twilight of his career, Mido is a revered figure among the club’s faithful, with his pro-Zamalek sentiment resembling that of a die-hard supporter. The stands have been buzzing with excitement since Mido replaced Helmi Toulan in the dugout, hoping he would lift some of the gloom off the success-starved side that has been stuck on a second-best five CAF Champions League titles since 2002. The early signs have been promising, with Zamalek displaying an attractive brand of attacking football marked by well-executed manoeuvres in the build-up play and set-pieces.
"I would love to see my teams play the brand of football that Guus Hiddink and Louis van Gaal have their teams play," explained Mido. "I’m trying to implement that style in Egypt, and people have already seen how Zamalek’s rhythm has notably improved.
"We are trying to edge closer to Europe through the way we play. However, we will need some time to do that. We need a complete set-up on the youth and senior levels.”
Mido has earned glowing praise from many of Zamalek’s players, some of whom rushed to the touchline to embrace him after scoring during the past few games, underlining a charisma that defined his playing career. The former Marseille and Roma marksman believes his young age could be a plus, but only if dealt with carefully.
“One should have a balanced relation with his players, who should differentiate between Mido as a friend who was raised with them and Mido as a coach who is obliged to make certain decisions for the benefit of the team,” he said. “I’ve put that into effect in a successful manner. My relationship with all players is based on mutual respect.”
Faith in youth
Mido’s task remains daunting. He took over a cash-strapped club who have been struggling to deal with the instability of Egyptian football. They were forced to offload some of their key players during the past year, including winger Mahmoud Abdel-Razeq 'Shikabala' who joined Lisbon giants Sporting after falling out with the club. Mido plans to heavily rely on the youth sector to feed the first team and ease Zamalek’s crisis.
“I have no problem in working with a limited transfer budget," he said. "I mainly want to promote more players from the youth team.
"But it’s difficult to get the maximum out of the players who don't receive their wages. I and the board of directors are working hard to resolve that problem, but it remains a difficult mission now.”