Having kept at bay some of the world’s most fearsome forwards, from Zinedine Zidane and Raul to Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba, Egypt and Al Ahly legend Wael Gomaa could do nothing to hold off the sands of time, retiring just before the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ where he had hoped to bow out. Although a dream of a spot in Brazil did not come true, Gomaa hung up his boots having left an indelible mark on Egyptian football, and he has already embarked on a new role with his trademark fighting spirit that defined his glittering career.
The bald-headed centre back was little known when he made his debut with Al Ahly in a pre-season friendly against Real Madrid in 2001, but his assured display at Cairo Stadium played a key role in giving the Red Devils a stunning 1-0 win over a team featuring French great Zidane, former Spain striker Raul and ex-Portugal winger Luis Figo. The high-profile match marked the beginning of a decorated career that saw him lead club and national team to a host of trophies, setting some personal records in the process and earning constant praise for his never-say-die attitude and leadership skills.
Although not a delicate passer, Gomaa, nicknamed 'The Rock', was known for his timely and tough tackles, astute positioning and aerial prowess. Such qualities made him an asset to attack-minded Ahly and Egypt sides, ensuring he would not leave significant gaps for the opposition to exploit. “I never imagined that I would reach such heights. With determination and hard work, I achieved a lot more than I had originally sought,” the 38-year-old, who has immediately become a football director for Ahly following his retirement at the end of last season, said in an interview with FIFA.com.
The Ahly squads that Gomaa was part of for over a dozen years boasted an abundance of attacking talents, but he still managed to establish himself as a key player and fan favourite, with his name usually chanted by the hardcore supporters of Egypt and Africa’s most successful outfit. The mild-mannered defender, who joined Ahly from modest Ghazl El-Mahalla in 2001, was one of the mainstays of a hugely successful side that swept Africa during the last decade, marshalling a steadfast defence that proved vital when it mattered most.
He became the first player in the continent to win five CAF Champions League titles when Ahly defeated Tunisia’s Esperance in the 2012 final before adding to his tally after the team retained their crown at the expense of South Africa’s Orlando Pirates the following year. “The 2006 Champions League was the most valuable title I won. The victory against [Tunisian side] Sfaxien came in the dying minutes, so it was remarkable. There were some similarities between that match and our game against Esperance in 2012, but the joy was more immense in the first one,” Gomaa said.
Although his pace and agility faded in recent years, Gomaa’s experience was still crucial to an Ahly side shorn of some veterans such as Mohamed Aboutrika and Mohamed Barakat, who both quit before him. The rock-solid defender’s trophy-laden club career also includes seven Egyptian Premier League titles, three Egyptian Cups and six African Super Cups. His only spell abroad was brief one with Qatar’s Al-Siliya, but he has no regrets over failing to carve out a career overseas. ”I’m fully satisfied with what I have done in my career. Thanks God for everything, I’ve done my best in every step I took,” he added.
Gomaa’s impact on the international level was equally extraordinary, having been ever-present in Egypt’s squad since making his debut in 2001. He earned 114 caps and led the Pharaohs to three consecutive CAF Africa Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. En route to the hat-trick of continental triumphs, Gomaa expertly subdued the likes of Cameroon striker Eto’o and Ivorian hitman Drogba, further enhancing his reputation as one of the most powerful defenders in the continent.
Yet for all his exploits with the Egyptian national team, a long-awaited World Cup appearance remained elusive, with two near-misses seeing the team fall at the last hurdle: against Algeria in 2009 and Ghana in 2013. “I lived and carried on playing for that dream: Appearing at the World Cup. I won everything with Egypt and Ahly; that was the only thing missing. I took part in the 2010 qualifiers and continued to play until the end of the 2014 qualifiers for that reason,” he said. “However, I’m still satisfied with my contribution to the national team.”
Gomaa is excited with his new role, which he believes would be the first rung in an administrative ladder that he wants to climb. He also did not rule out becoming a coach at some point. “I’m more interested in the administrative field for now because I’m football-saturated, but becoming a manager also remains an option,” he said.