Hossam Hassan, Africa's most capped player and one of Egypt's most successful players, recently made the switch from the pitch to the dugout when he took the reins at one of his former clubs, Al Masry.
The 41-year-old is a living legend in his homeland. When Hassan
won his first title for the Pharaohs, the 1986 CAF Africa Cup of
Nations, Mido - his successor as Egypt's current most prominent
player - was just three years old. Two decades later, these players
stood shoulder to shoulder on the podium as Hassan lifted his third
continental title on home soil.
Yet despite numbering among Africa's most successful footballers, controversy has dogged the remarkable career of this 170-times-capped striker. Even as his former team-mates successfully defended their Cup of Nations title in Ghana earlier this year, Hassan was forced to suspend his career as a player after ending his contract with Egyptian club Al-Ittihad and failing to secure another contract during the winter break.
However, Hassan remains a player who wrote his own destiny, and in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Egypt legend insists that moving into coaching simply represents his latest challenge.
FIFA.com: Hossam, what is the secret behind being one of
the few strikers across the world who have remained prolific over
such a long period of time?
Hossam Hassan: This is the result of my dedication to the game and my consistent hard work. Of course you lose something from a physical point of view [as you get older] but you improve tactically and mentally and my endless love of the game was always the fuel of my success.
Why do you feel this is the right time to turn to
Football is the core of my life and I just I cannot stop thinking about it. It is not a job or hobby for me; it is my whole world. So when I received the offer, I did not think too long because I felt it was time for me to move on to the next level in my relations with the game.
Do you believe that you have what it takes to start a
Yes, and the success that [Jurgen] Klinsmann and Dunga have enjoyed with their national teams is a clear indication that coaching is not a job only for experienced figures. I was very happy when I learned that Iran had appointed Ali Daei and, to be honest, I believe I should have started to practice coaching five years ago while I was playing.
Do you not consider it risky to start off with a club, in
Al Masry, which has already dismissed two coaches this
Many coaches would hesitate before working with a club like Al Masry because it is certainly a challenge, but this is something that I always look for. Additionally, I know the club well because I played there and I know the president and the administration, so I am quite excited about my new mission and I have no fears.
What about the club's fans, who are known for being
very enthusiastic and demanding?
I will try to use their enthusiasm in my favour. I already enjoy great popularity among the fans and I think that as soon as I lead them to their first victory, my task will be much easier and everyone will try to help me to succeed.
What do you say to those who say you lack the sufficient
experience and do not hold a coaching license?
I have all the experience needed and I gained valuable knowledge from the coaches that I worked with like Roy Hodgson, Uli Stielike, Gerard Gili and Otto Pfister; they are all first-class coaches who I learned and gained a lot from. And of course above all is Mahmoud Al-Gohary (former Egypt and Al Ahly coach).
What makes Al-Gohary so special?
Because he is the best coach I ever worked with; to me he is like a godfather and he had a lot of influence on my career and my personality. He is a remarkable person who taught me many things that turned my life around on and off the pitch.
What about Hassan Shehata, who has now won the Cup of
Nations twice and was your boss in 2006?
He is a good coach, but he had much better circumstances which made his job easier. In 2006, we won the cup on home soil and even this year when he successfully defended the title, it was normal because we were the title holders. I am convinced that the 1998 Cup which we won in Burkina Faso under Al-Gohary's command was the toughest competition Egypt ever won. At the time, we did not have the kind of support the team gets now and there were no sponsors or such advanced logistics. I think now with the better administration and the fact that we have been the best team in African football for the past four years, we must be the favourites to reach the 2010 World Cup finals.
Is there something that you missed out on in your
Yes, I should have continued my European career after short spells in Switzerland and Greece (with Neuchatel Xamax and PAOK); it could have given me more international fame. I would have loved to play in Italy but I decided to return home in the spur of the moment to help my former club Al Ahly regain their pride and threw my European dream away.
Did you have any other regrets in your career?
Well, when I quit Ahly after 20 happy years, it was a very tough moment but when I look back at it now, I see it as a blessing because I also played for their rivals Zamalek and had the same success. That made me one of the most popular players in Egypt.
How do you feel now that you have hung up your boots for
I don't want to shock you, but I never announced such a decision, although I have to admit that I am seriously considering it. I will announce my decision next summer, and maybe I will continue to play while coaching. I hope that whenever I do have my retirement game, I can invite Mr Blatter and Michel Platini, who both honoured me in Cairo as the most capped player in the world seven years ago. As for my ultimate target, that is to coach the national team, so Shehata had better watch out!