Goalkeepers are always watched more closely than other players. Every error could lead to a potentially match-winning goal for the opposition. On the other hand a goalkeeper who turns in a stellar performance with a string of great saves is almost uniquely capable of preventing his team falling to defeat.
Sherif Ekramy keeps goal for Al-Ahly SC, CAF Champions League holders and contenders at the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2013. Naturally, the tournament is no exception to the norm and he is under the closest scrutiny. However, he is a little different compared to many other goalkeepers, because ever since he pulled on gloves in earnest he has been constantly compared to his father, Egyptian goalkeeping legend El Shahat Ekramy.
Ekramy senior made more than 300 appearances for Al-Ahly and rates as one of the best keepers ever to emerge from Africa. Sherif has always had to live with the inevitable comparisons. “It started when I took up the game in the first place. After all I’ve had this name since I was a little boy,“ the player dryly told FIFA.com.
The 1.91m tall Egyptian joined the professional ranks in 1992 and no-one has ever let him forget his famous forebear since then. But as the years have passed he has learned to cope with the inevitable comparisons. Nowadays, he considers it a special honour to continue the tradition established by his father. “I’m used to it by now. Bearing this name brings great responsibility and I work very hard to live up to it.“
Thanks to his distinguished and trophy-filled career the Egypt national goalkeeper has succeeded in becoming recognised as a talented player in his own right and not merely the son of the man known with awe and reverence as the ‘African Monster’.
Goalkeeping was Plan B
The keeper declines to engage in a debate as to who is the best Ekramy, Sherif or El Shahat, as he feels the comparison is inappropriate. His father’s playing career was in the 70s and 80s, but the game has undergone dramatic change since then, making it impossible to say who plays or played at the higher level. All Sherif will say is that “it’s tougher today in certain respects.”
Ironically enough, Ekramy junior never intended to keep goal as his initial target was to become a striker. But after trialling for Al-Ahly and realising he stood little chance as a forward, he hatched a different plan. “My brother was also a goalkeeper with Al-Ahly, so I gave it a go in goal in training and managed to prove myself in the position.”
He continued his career in Cairo until 2005 before moving to the Netherlands for a spell with Rotterdam giants Feyernoord. He later featured for Ankaragucu in Turkey and El Gouna in Egypt before rejoining Al-Ahly in 2010. Since then he has claimed two domestic championships and back-to-back triumphs in the Champions League. “These are the greatest achievements of my career to date,” he said.
In Ahly’s opening match at the Club World Cup, Ekramy picked the ball from the back of his net twice as the Egyptians fell 2-0 to Guangzhou Evergrande FC. Both goals were one-on-one situations with the Ahly back four nowhere in sight, and Ekramy came within a whisker of pulling off a remarkable save on one occasion. He was naturally dismayed by the defeat, but he is a good sportsman and accepted the result.
“We played a very good team today. We gave it our best shot but unfortunately it wasn’t enough,” he reflected. The keeper feels the current turbulence in his home country is one factor behind the defeat. Domestic competition is suspended at present, use of stadiums is severely restricted and the nation is suffering deep financial and political problems, badly affecting preparations for the global tournament. “The fact we managed to win the Champions League and even earn the chance to play in Morocco rates as a great success. I’m very grateful for it.”
Al-Ahly now take on CF Monterrey in Marrakech on 18 December in the match for fifth place. As always Sherif Ekramy will be one of the most closely monitored players on the field. And yet again he will out to show the world he has successfully emerged from the long shadow cast by his famous father.